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The Risks and Rewards of Playing to Win

Jason Barrett

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It’s been said many times that you don’t win in sports radio without great talent. It helps that our subject matter is important to people and offers a mental escape from the harsh realities of life. For a few hours each day fans can watch a game, process the information and final result, and listen to what sports talk media personalities think about the same event they just consumed. It’s a necessary distraction that brings us joy and makes the daily pressures worth battling.

In many ways it creates a bond between a talk show host and listener. Sports is the unifying content, and when presented in a way that keeps the audience learning, laughing and debating with the radio, it can become unbreakable.

But at the core of it all is having a masterful talent occupy the airwaves. The content might be the hook to get them there, but the host is what keeps them there.

As I watched the NBA Draft last week it dawned on me how General Managers are in the same exact situation as a Sports Radio Program Director. Identifying game changing talent is difficult because so many players are skilled. What separates the best are the smallest of details but those minor things can be the difference in adding players who lead you to titles or keep you in the swamp of mediocrity.

For instance, a GM could choose a player who plays 8 years in the league, makes an all-star team or two and averages 15 points per game. Most would see that as a solid choice. However, if the next player taken plays the same exact position and goes on to spend 12 years in the league averaging 25 points per game, being a 9 time all-star and winning multiple titles, the perception of that GM immediately changes.

We’ve seen this numerous times. Darko Milicic going before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Sam Bowie being chosen ahead of Michael Jordan. Kevin Durant being passed over for Greg Oden. Kobe Bryant and Donovan Mitchell being selected 13th in their respective drafts, and Giannis Antetokounmpo falling to 15.

Picking talent is a crapshoot and not every program director is good at it. Yet the brands that win most are those which feature talent that can’t be matched by competitors.

One glaring weakness in our business is that there isn’t a lot of training involved when it comes to becoming a programmer. Many market managers and executives place a brand’s fate in the hands of someone who’s proven themselves as a strong producer or talent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is ready to run the whole show. To relate it to sports, Norv Turner and Josh McDaniels have proven in the NFL that they can be great offensive coordinators but both have yet to show they can be difference makers as head coaches.

Some PD’s might be excellent at writing imaging, creating work schedules, participating in sales and promotions meetings, and helping producers land guests on a show. But can they identify and coach great talent and position them strategically against a competitor? I don’t care how good a programmer is at those other jobs, their brands won’t win if their talent evaluation skills aren’t superior.

Equally problematic is that some market managers want to shop for the groceries but task the PD with cooking the meal. The problem is, some deliver chocolate pudding and spaghetti and wonder why the mean doesn’t taste good. They also don’t want to do the legwork necessary to locate great talent. Instead they gravitate towards people they know who may have some talent but have yet to prove they can deliver results despite being given multiple opportunities to do so.

Having made hiring decisions in multiple markets, some of which I reaped the rewards from, and others which I felt the sting from, I learned that it’s vital to do your homework, think big and keep rolling the dice. If you operate safe, your brand plays safe. That ultimately leads to average results. I’d much rather put my own ass on the line trying to be great than sit comfortably on it knowing that my brand was nothing special.

I used to have one market manager ask me “would you put your job on the line over this decision?” I loved that. It was his way of saying “if you believe in this, let’s go all in. But if you’re not sure or have one ounce of doubt, you better keep searching.”

Being familiar with talent evaluating, I know that the process must be ongoing. Even if your station is strong today, one unexpected change tomorrow could instantly stall your progress. This is why you never stop looking. There are times when your best hosts have vacation time or get sick. Someone has to work those shifts. Are you plugging holes on those days or using those hours to get a read on someone who might help the brand somewhere down the line?

When it comes to locating talent, the first step is easy. Every PD begins by examining the local market options. This includes getting a read on the the local sports/talk radio hosts, TV personalities and writers. You might strike gold this way but I often find you only get half of your process completed by pursuing this path. Filling out a dynamic lineup usually involves more.

You’ve also got to study which former local athletes have an ability to speak in an entertaining way and possess interests beyond one sport. You scout the nation to see which media professionals have ties to your city. You look to your surrounding areas to learn who’s on the rise and hungry to make your market their final destination. You scour YouTube, iTunes, comedy clubs, listen to people calling your station, and hold contests to find future gems. And last but not least, you identify every single great personality who’s only issue is not having a local market connection.

Some PD’s will be scared off by that. I’m not one of them. Great talent adjust. If the worst thing that can be said about someone is that they’re not from the market, I’ll take it. Usually those complaints stop after a few months. Don’t get me wrong, there are some cities where this doesn’t work due to the sound and style of a particular host and the way the audience lives, thinks and talks, but I see many cases where programmers eliminate outside the market options despite broadcasting in markets comprised of transplants.

Why does that happen? Because it’s easier to play it safe than to risk it all.

But in this fragile business that we operate in, can you really blame someone for not wanting to put their feet in the fire without the fear of them being burned? Look around at the headlines over the past couple of years. Cumulus and iHeart dealt with bankruptcy issues. Townsquare and Alpha have gone thru adjustments. Entercom-CBS merged, leaving many to question how it’d affect their job status. These type of situations cause people to be timid. Why stand out during unsettling times when you can just hide in the background and make sure the check continues to clear?

Maybe it’s a case of stupidity on my part, but I could never work that way. I wish I could sometimes, but it’s not how I’m built. I’ve always believed that a programmer’s job is to hire and coach great talent, and create brands, events and content that mattered to people. If it means gambling on someone with a few question marks and higher talent, I’m going to play to win and take that chance.

To bring it full circle, I flash back to Round 1 of the NBA Draft last week and a decision which I thought spoke to this very issue. When the New York Knicks selected Kevin Knox instead of Michael Porter Jr. I felt it was the safe choice. As a lifelong Knicks fan, I hope Knox becomes the next LeBron James and makes everyone forget about Porter Jr.. I really do. But on draft night, his selection screamed of taking the easy route, instead of the bumpier road with greater promise. For an organization that was choosing 9th and hasn’t won a title since 1973, I don’t think you can operate that way and expect to win.

When comparisons were made between Porter and Knox by Chauncey Billups, he likened Porter to Kevin Durant, and Knox to Tobias Harris. That doesn’t mean either player will turn out that way but it tells you what the perception of each player’s talent level was. If you looked back a few months ago there was legitimate discussion of Porter being one of the top players in the entire draft. That wasn’t being said about Knox.

The reason Porter slipped is because of medical concerns over his back. Many in the media began to declare that he wasn’t worth gambling on, yet neither they nor I are doctors with any real insight on his future health concerns. We all speculate and take our cues from stories spun by teams and agents who are trying to create buzz to benefit themselves. The real answers come over time once we have results to analyze. It’s during times like these where we learn which organizations and executives are taking steps forward, and which ones will continue searching for solutions.

If Michael Porter Jr.’s back becomes an issue and limits his potential, then those who passed on him will look smart and the Denver Nuggets will look foolish. If he becomes a player who changes the outcome of games, then every team that passed on him will be wishing they hadn’t and the Nuggets will reap the rewards. At just 19 years old (turning 20 this week) and possessing world class talent, I felt the risk was worth it, even if he missed next season. Especially for franchises like the Knicks, Clippers and Hornets who haven’t won, are in desperate need of elite talent and were picking outside of the Top 5.

And this is exactly what executives and companies in radio face too.

Do you take the safe path and pick up the performer who’s seen as a good talent simply because they’re familiar to you, your audience and have existing relationships with members in your building or do you go outside your comfort zone to take a chance on someone with greater skill, a higher ceiling but less familiarity and more question marks?

If you play to win, you will fail a few times. But you’ll also knock down a bunch of game winning shots. You’ve just got to decide if you’d rather be on the floor and pass up the shot or take the risk to try and win the game, knowing that you might miss. The great ones welcome pressure. It’s why we remember each of their successes and failures. The question you’ve got to answer for yourself is “are you willing to fail in your attempt to chase greatness or are you content with just playing the game?”

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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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