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Replacing Iconic Shows Is a Very Tall Order

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It happens in sports all the time. Legendary players treat us to decades of success and heartwarming moments before reaching the end of the line and paving the way for the next crop of superstars. Sometimes teams move on without missing a beat. Other times they go into a funk for a sustained period of time. It’s what separates good and bad organizations.

To prepare for those situations, teams dedicate time and resources to identifying future stars. No matter how much preparation is done though, until the moment arrives and a new talent is on the field, court or rink, you won’t know how mentally tough they are or how effective they’ll be until they face the music.

As a lifelong Yankees fan I was recently reminded of how important planning for the present and the future can be. When Derek Jeter retired, Didi Gregorious stepped in. As Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira moved on, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez became the new faces of the franchise. Coincidentally, the Yankees surpassed expectations and were one game away this season from playing for the World Series. That was a testament to exceptional scouting, talent development, managing and a roster coming together and developing great chemistry.

In radio, the same challenges occur but when they do, it can be difficult for programmers and corporate executives to roll the dice on the unknown. Too often we gravitate towards established commodities because of the instant pressure of sustaining ratings and revenue. Rather than bet on the better long-term play, we’ll flock to someone who can ease the immediate pain. It doesn’t matter if the wound gets reopened next year, if we can put a band aid on the cut, that spares us from having to go to the doctor and deal with potential surgery.

Think about it for a minute as it relates to sports. Two years ago, some Yankees fans would’ve dealt Aaron Judge to land a pitcher who could’ve helped the team contend faster. Can you imagine how badly the franchise would’ve been setback if Judge had been traded for someone like Johnny Cueto? At the time it would’ve sounded good considering that Cueto was an ace and Judge was in Triple A and nowhere near the home run machine we now know him to be. The organization might have won a few more games that season, but had they taken that approach, they would have spent the next 10 years paying dearly for it.

We’re at a point in time where some of the best in the sports media industry are starting to fade away. Over the past few years, play by play legends like Vin Scully, Brent Musburger and Verne Lundquist have moved on. Familiar faces on sports television like Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, John Saunders, Ron Jaworski, Ed Werder, John Clayton, Stuart Scott and Craig Sager have left our screens. In sports radio, local stars such as Terry Boers, John Dennis and Terry Foster have all exited stage left.

Before you know it, Al Michaels, Bob Ley, Dick Vitale, Lee Corso and Bob Costas will vanish. So too will be Angelo Cataldi, Joe Beningo, Norm Hitzges and Gary Radnich. All of these broadcasters have been extremely successful. Some may even stick around longer than expected, but father time remains undefeated and eventually even the best step aside at some point. When they do, that’s when you learn a lot about a brand and its programming team.

In thinking about some of these situations over the past few years, I’ve seen a number of them turn out positively. When CBS moved on from Phil Simms, Tony Romo took the ball and ran with it. After John Madden left Sunday Night Football, Chris Collinsworth moved in and delivered an immediate impact. In fact, NBC has already prepared itself well for Al Michaels’ exit with the addition of Mike Tirico. ESPN also did a fantastic job years ago elevating Buster Olney and Adam Schefter to their top MLB and NFL insider roles continuing the great work done previously by Peter Gammons and Chris Mortensen.

A few others I’d add to the list were FOX Sports’ choice to install John Smoltz opposite Joe Buck on MLB playoffs/World Series broadcasts after previously using Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, and David Ortiz taking over for Pete Rose on FS1’s postseason baseball pre and postgame coverage. Although Skip Bayless created more buzz and made more headlines with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take, you can also add Max Kellerman to this list since he’s played his role well on the show and helped continue the program’s success.

On the radio side, despite losing established stars like Terry Boers in Chicago and John Dennis in Boston, 670 The Score and WEEI in Boston continued to excel. Each station developed future solutions in advance, so when Boers and Dennis left, Jason Goff and Kirk Minihane were ready to take on bigger roles. Both men were familiar to the local audience, and adequately tested before being trusted in bigger positions.

The flipside of this situation has been the reception to the changed strategy of the 6pm SportsCenter on ESPN and Sam Ponder’s ascension to host of Sunday NFL Countdown. Maybe in time fans will come around to both shows but so far the immediate reaction hasn’t been strong. We’ve also seen the Reynolds and Verducci combo fail to deliver for FOX Sports the way Tim McCarver did previously, and CBS Sports’ NCAA Tournament coverage hasn’t created the same level of noise and intrigue as it did when Billy Packer was involved.

I’ve gone down this road because in the next thirty days, both ESPN and WFAN will go thru the biggest adjustments to their brands in quite some time. Both Mike Francesa and Mike and Mike will end their shows, leaving both companies under the microscope. Francesa vacates The Fan after thirty years, twenty eight of which have included hosting afternoon drive. The Mikes sign off after waking up listeners all across the nation on America’s largest sports radio network for the past seventeen years.

In ESPN’s case, Golic will stick around and be joined by longtime football host Trey Wingo. The two men have chemistry from working together on NFL Live and although some may deem the choice as safe or predictable, ESPN isn’t under the same ratings pressure with their radio show the way local stations are. Network officials say Wingo and Golic will be given a chance to ease into the show, find their groove and provide stability. They also take pride in the fact that despite breaking up a highly visible and popular morning show, they’ve only lost one top 20 market affiliate, and it was on a station which was already planning to go local in morning drive.

For WFAN this is a much different conversation. Replacing Francesa is a tall order. He’s arguably the most successful sports radio host to ever work in New York City. For each media member who gripes about his show being outdated, the New York sports radio host’s ratings and revenue have remained strong for nearly three decades. That’s a feat that few can lay claim to.

Making the story even more interesting, is that WFAN will go in an entirely new direction with Francesa’s replacement. According to the New York Daily News, Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray have been selected as the station’s new afternoon show, instantly making them the most scrutinized local program in the entire nation.

The new show will be a complete departure from Francesa’s style. Scott and Gray add an African American (plus former player’s point of view) and female perspective, and the station will feature three hosts in afternoons opposite Michael Kay’s program on 98.7 ESPN NY which also features a three member cast. Adding to the curiosity are the list of names who were reportedly contacted by WFAN and offered the job yet turned it down. Adam Schein, Max Kellerman, Chris Simms and Kim Jones all declined, and Chris Christie, Mike Valenti, and Evan Roberts were given drive time auditions. Prior to re-signing with SiriusXM, Chris Russo had expressed interest in being considered, and former WFAN personality Sid Rosenberg was interested but his contract with WABC prevented that from becoming a possibility.

In Carlin’s case, he returns to the big apple after a solid but short stint in Philadelphia at WIP. When I asked Chris just two months ago if he envisioned pursuing this opportunity and giving up a great gig in Philadelphia, he said he wanted WIP to become his permanent home. To be fair, I’m sure at that time he didn’t expect this job to be offered. Besides, we’re all entitled to change our minds, especially when prime real estate at one’s former station is offered.

After this story broke, I was bombarded with texts, emails and social media messages, most of which felt The Fan had made a grave mistake. From the outside looking in it does feel different, and the odds of it working aren’t as high as the chances of the show being a miss. We’d likely say that though about any show that goes in after Francesa. When you replace a legend, it’s more likely you turn out like David Lee Roth after Howard Stern than Colin Cowherd after Tony Kornheiser.

Having faced these challenges before, Mark Chernoff (WFAN’s programming czar) has shown that when his back is against the wall he usually does his best work. He hit a homerun by rolling the dice on Boomer and Carton after Imus, and when Chris Russo left afternoons, he could’ve installed a new partner with Francesa, especially with the show being over five hours long, but he trusted his workhorse to succeed solo, and that’s exactly what he did.

If Chernoff feels this show can succeed, then he’s earned the benefit of the doubt to try it. If he’s wrong, some will question if Mark still has the magic touch. But considering how many reportedly rejected the opportunity, it does leave a few questions. Is this the move Chernoff really wanted to make? Does he have complete confidence in the show being WFAN’s next big hit? Or is WFAN putting forward its 5th best option and the one they had the best chance at getting a deal done with?

It’s easy to throw darts from the sidelines and blast a radio station for its decision, but unless you’ve walked in those shoes and put your name on a call, supported your choice and dealt with the arrows flying in your direction, you won’t understand how hard it is. These type of moves determine if a station will continue winning or losing and it’s the ultimate test in conviction and measurement of a programmer’s vision and decision making.

Having developed professional relationships over the years with Chris and Mark, and having grown up as a listener to The Fan, I’m rooting for them to succeed. I don’t know if the new afternoon show will excite an audience to tune in daily but it’s their challenge to find a way to do so. We’re in a different world than we were 10-20 years ago and content options are greater than ever before. I applaud The Fan for going outside the box and attempting to freshen up the look and sound of its product. Whether it’s the right call or not can only be determined by the audience. Hopefully additional surgery isn’t necessary in the future.

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John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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