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The BSM 64: 16 Ways to Impact Your Airwaves

“BSM President Jason Barrett offers 16 items that anyone can implement to impact their station in a positive manner.”

Jason Barrett

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This week, Barrett Sports Media is featuring a four part mini-series of articles providing helpful tips, lessons, and observations for the sports media industry. Leading up to Thursday we will present a new article each day inspired of course by the NCAA Tournament.

On Monday, Demetri Ravanos kicked things off with his look at 16 Station Bracket Ideas. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it. Your promotion next March could be sitting inside of it.

But for today, I thought that since I spend most of my time listening and studying brands on-air, online, and on social, that it’d be fun to write about 16 items that anyone can implement to impact their station in a positive manner. It’s easy to analyze what’s weak, but most of what we do is good. If it wasn’t, stations wouldn’t trust their programmers, personalities or producers to use the airwaves, and the audience wouldn’t respond.

The little details and extra effort can make a world of difference in this business so keep these in mind as you continue working on being the best you can be.

1: 4 Layered Conversation – When hosts and producers outline their show each day, they know have a pretty good idea beforehand what the lead story is going to be. The challenge is taking that lead story and finding multiple ways to talk about it for lengthy periods of time. Even more important, the host must maintain discipline and not introduce every angle and question to the story during a segment, otherwise they’ll become less passionate and interested in the subject as the show rolls on.

The goal should be to identify 4 different questions to build conversations off of and make sure they’re strong enough to last 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a note and a topic. A note is something you explore for a minute or two, a topic is what you invest a large chunk of time into.

If for example the story was the public reaction to LeBron James distancing himself from the Lakers huddle over the weekend, you’d be working to create lengthy discussions around his long-term fit in Los Angeles, what others in sports/media are saying about it (Clyde Frazier’s comments would come up here), what the franchise needs to do this offseason to avoid a repeat, how Luke Walton, Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka factor into the blame game, how you’d view this situation if you were in LeBron’s shoes, how the perception of the Lakers being an elite franchise has changed, etc..

I used the number 4 with the thought of a 4-hour show in mind, but if you do a 2-3 hour show, feel free to modify it. Either way, the key is making sure you don’t combine all of those topics into one conversation. If you do, it’s going to be hard to sound fresh, excited, and interested in the forthcoming hours. Space them out and you’ll find yourself mentally engaged in the topic much longer than you thought you’d be.

2: Writing Improves On-Air Performance – This notion that sports radio hosts who rely on writing are weaker than those that don’t is foolish. I’ve heard many say “It’s about being organic, I need to feel the show, I don’t like having anything written down”, and when I hear that it sounds like an excuse for being less prepared.

Now listen, maybe you have amazing recall. Maybe your producer does such an amazing job laying things out that you feel comfortable that way. I’m not saying those things don’t matter or that allowing room for things to develop organically isn’t important because they are. But, don’t tell me there’s no value in having some of your best thoughts placed on paper and available to you to go to at some point during the show.

Do you think Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarrantino tell their actors to just show up and say some stuff in front of a camera and they’ll figure out the rest? Don’t professional athletes workout, practice, watch tape, and talk to peers, coaches and executives about ways to get better or take advantage of opportunities versus an upcoming opponent?

Great talent are curious and always thinking. They take notes during games. They highlight things in articles. They leave themselves voice mails or texts to recall specific points or ideas. Don’t mistake the value of writing for weakness. There’s a fine line between chaos and organization. Those who create organized chaos though usually enjoy the best of both worlds.

3: Regulars with Different Backgrounds – So many shows feature weekly conversations with people involved in the sports world. Most are arranged by program directors, some with the involvement of talent, some without. In many cases, regular contributors are secured based on budgets, audience and staff familiarity with the individual, and the worst of them all, what’s easiest to arrange. Rarely taken into account is whether the show/station is featuring a mix of people from different walks of life, and attracting new audience.

First and foremost, if you’re paying someone to appear regularly and they show no meaningful lift to your station’s ratings or revenue performance, why would you have them back? Your host may like them personally or your PD may like that it’s affordable but you get what you paid for.

What should be taken further into consideration is how you’re reaching different parts of your audience. Younger, Older, White, Black, Hispanic, Man, Woman, etc.. One show that does this very well is The Dan Le Batard Show.

Do you have people on your airwaves who represent different backgrounds and provide a different point of view? Are you booking the same 5-6 white writers and reporters who have been around the business for 30-40 years just because it’s easy and familiar? Sports radio may be 80-85% male, and most of that listening comes from White or ‘Other’ men. But rather than looking at the lack of activity from Women and Black/Hispanic listeners, consider this an opportunity to bring more of those folks to the table.

4: Making Endorsements Entertaining – If the majority of your audience is going to tune out when you play commercials, you might as well do your best to make the client happy. By doing that in entertaining fashion, you may even steal :60 seconds of the audience’s time. I saw that in San Francisco in 2014-2015 with the way Greg Papa and John Lund invested themselves in a campaign for Pasta Pomodoro. Their spots became a hit with the audience, many using the text line and social media to voice their approval and use funny lines from the spots to engage in conversation.

Think about this for a minute, why don’t you change the channel when a movie trailer comes on your television screen? It’s a commercial right? But we watch it because it’s interesting, entertaining, and provides a call to action (we want to go see it).

On radio it’s the personalities job to speak for products they feel a connection to and give the audience a reason to check them out. If you’re going to grab the sheet of copy with its 6-10 bullet points :10 seconds before its time to deliver the spot and sleep walk thru the read, it’s going to have less impact. You’ll also likely lose that account at some point.

If you can record them, chances are they’ll be better. If LIVE is a must, then think about how you’re going to make someone care about the next 60 seconds of airtime when it’s not the content they seek. Your personal connection to the product, and the way you use humor and/or relatable issues to make the audience lean forward are critically important.

I saw Barstool launch a campaign two years ago for Burger King using the hashtag No New Year (#NoNewYear). The video spot was simple and silly and they provided a call to action which got the audience involved. Big Cat and PFT had fun with it, and it was more likely to please Burger King’s agency buyer than the standard testimonial from a radio talent telling the audience to sample their new sandwich. With social influencers putting more time, effort and creativity into making advertisers feel valued, radio hosts have to be equally up to the task to keep business strong.

5: Creating a Distinctive Sound – When you turn on WFAN it sounds unique. If you listen to ESPN Radio or FOX Sports Radio they have their own sound. Watch a few TV channels tonight and you’ll quickly see how network channels, news/talk outlets, and outlets like TBS, TNT, AMC, and FX differ from one another. Your show can do the same.

One way to do it is by installing music beds that fit the style of show and are different from the rest of your brand. I’ll never understand why stations rotate 100 beds for all 4 of their shows. If your host is an aggressive personality and you’ve got a Justin Timberlake tune or older and slower classic rock bed playing before they speak, does that match the tone of what they deliver thru the speakers? I don’t think it does.

The other way to strengthen the originality of the show is thru liners. Allow room for your creativity to shine thru and highlight what makes your talent or show style stand out. Rather than spending 5 seconds with something bland that just tells the audience the name of the station and host, take the extra 5 seconds to add some flavor to it. And don’t tell me that’s going to be what costs you a listening occasion. That’s a farce.

For example, I worked with a host years ago who was notorious for stirring things up. My former marketing director wrote a few liners and one that stood out was when he jokingly told the audience the station’s insurance premium’s had doubled due to employing him. It instantly created an image of this host being a rule breaker, and someone who took no prisoners on the air. It was consistent with his approach, and when you heard him start talking over heavier/angrier beds from bands like Korn, Rage Against The Machine, and Sevendust it fit the persona of the personality, and gave the show its own unique style. In a world full of noise, that matters.

6: Storytelling Thru Production Returns – Playing a piece of sound over music to lead into a segment is fine. Taking a few clips and connecting them to a song with a specific title that creatively leads your host into their next conversation is even better.

One thing I’ve consistently done during my career is take new music and create :15-:20 seconds of an instrumental bed, follow it with the hook or chorus, and leave trailing instrumental music afterwards for a host to talk over. Regardless of what stories pop up, I have something already on standby. Strong imaging directors like Jeff Schmidt and Justin Dove do this with their promos, but producers could easily impact their shows by doing this too.

When you watch a football game or show feature, TV producers do this with regularity. The feature or highlights package plays over a familiar musical bed and often connects to the story they’re trying to tell. Most of the time it makes the storytelling more powerful.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here are two pieces I’ve created in the past. The first is for a lead up to the Panthers-Eagles Thursday Night game in 2017, and the second is one of the returns we used on 95.7 The Game in SF after learning of Al Davis passing away.

Radio is all about sound, so why we wouldn’t do this more I’m not sure. It makes a show sound better. The only challenge is finding the time to do it. I’ve always felt that those who care enough to make their production matter will find the time. Others will take the easier way out. Figure out which music best fits your show, think of how to use the hook to connect to the story you’re discussing, and it’ll give your program a nice touch.

7: Turning The Mundane Into Must Listen – Every now and then you’re going to be given something you consider less than spectacular. A team may ask you to promote something that you don’t care about. The GM makes a call to help out sales which doesn’t please the PD or personality. Or you roll the dice yourself on something you think mght be good and it turns out to be bad.

First, remember that it’s one segment. If you think your show’s success or failure is going to depend on that one 10-minute piece of content, you may want to go back and re-examine everything else happening over the course of the week.

That said, look at how Dan Le Batard took a spot with Zoo Keeper Ron Magil and made it cool. He did the same thing years ago getting Florida Panthers play by play man Randy Moller to interject one liners into his goal calls. That’s an example of taking something that most shows would say ‘I’m not doing that it’s bad content’ and making it good.

Rock morning shows are usually very good at this because they take the simple and turn it into entertaining content. Case in point, I once worked on a FM music morning show where the hosts had one time sent out the stunt guy on a slow rainy day to stand on the side of the road near a giant puddle. They then asked the audience to drive by him and splash him while he was calling in. My first thought was ‘this is what we’re doing?’ but it resulted in hysterical on-air moments. They created something out of nothing.

But maybe you don’t operate like Le Batard or think the way a Rock morning show does. My suggestion then, bring the guest you’ve been saddled with into whatever your day’s top conversation is. As an example, if you’re talking to an NFL coach on the day LeBron James is being criticized for distancing himself from the Lakers huddle, that can be related to NFL issues that arise between coaches and players. Find a conversation that’s meaningful to your audience and get them on that conversation instead of spending your majority of time on something you know has limited value.

There’s always a subject out there to explore deeper, and when you know you’re up against it with someone that doesn’t feel right to the show, it’s better to try to bring them into what you’re doing rather than rely on what they’re doing. After all, that’s what had you not wanting to do the spot in the first place.

8: Well Timed Drops – Opinions and information may be what we spend most of our energy thinking about, but when a producer or board operator can think along with the host, and introduce audio drops that add to the conversation or result in hilarious moments, it’s worth its weight in gold. OMF on WEEI in Boston and The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN NY are two programs who do this exceptionally well.

My one rule to those behind the scenes is to be careful of not being too clever. Nobody needs to hear your entire library over the span of 3-4 hours. You also need to use good judgment when discussing specific stories. Case in point, you probably don’t want to play The Waterboy’s “That’s What It Feels Like To Open Up a Can of Whoop Ass” while your host is talking about Tyreek Hill being accused of hurting his son. That’s likely to get you suspended or fired.

If you can find things that are unique to your show and that you know connect with your host, and introduce them at the right times, the entertainment value can ascend to higher levels. That becomes a win with the audience.

9: Directing The Audience’s Reactions – This one is simple but important. A host must spend time researching stories, watching games, crafting a game plan, giving their opinions, and asking their audience how they feel about the issues they’re introducing. Equally as necessary is being committed to directing them. Don’t follow the callers, lead the callers.

An example of this would be talking about the Odell Beckham trade, and then turning to the phones and fielding a call that wants to discuss the NY Knicks. Are you a host in control of a show or are you a telephone operator who’s just there to answer as many questions as possible? You can wait to take that call. You can also choose to notify the listener that topic will be happening later, but you’re on something else right now so their time isn’t wasted. They’ll appreciate it.

The bottom line, you create the content, and guide the conversation. If all you’re going to do is look at the light on the phone and go wherever the audience takes you, be prepared for them to listen for much shorter periods of time to your presentation.

10: The Guest Element of Surprise – Booking guests is a regular part of sports radio. People love to hear people talk to other people, especially when it involves issues about other people.

But sometimes these conversations become routine and uneventful. Hosts and producers don’t often drop the guest after their 3 big items have been answered, they extend them for an extra 5 minutes because it kills time, and they think their 7th best question is important.

Rather than spending extra time on stuff that has less value, have you considered doing something to surprise your guest? That might be playing a piece of sound for them and getting them to react. For example, one time at 101 ESPN Bryan Burwell and Bob Stelton played Mark Schlereth’s analysis on the St. Louis Rams for GM Billy Devaney. Little did we know Devaney would unload on Schlereth and it would become the focus of the next few hours of the show.

Other times it may involve asking a guest about someone, and then having that other person on the line ready to react. That’s exactly what I did at the BSM Summit having 3 PD’s analyze one of Doug Gottlieb’s segments and then surprise them on stage.

Sometimes it becomes a cool moment for all involved. For example, if you’re talking to Joe Torre about managing the Yankees it’s probably going to be a fun conversation. But if Joe Girardi phoned in during that chat and you now have both men taking part in an interesting conversation, it surprises the audience, makes the moment cooler, and becomes something you’re probably discussing throughout the rest of the show.

Pulling it off requires work, but if you’re committed to creating cool moments, they’re out there to be made. You just need to think and take chances. That’s part of what makes radio fun in the first place.

11: Asking The Right Questions – For years ESPN invested in a guy named John Sawatsky who was brilliant when it came to interviewing. Producers and talent were trained on the principles of interviewing, and although you may not agree on everything John suggested, most of it was on point. To this day his interview class was the best piece of instruction I’ve ever sat thru.

What John tried to get across was the importance of asking questions that delivered the best responses. When hosts ask short focused questions that start with Who, What, Where, Why, When or How, they often generate better answers from guests.

It sounds simple but if you go back and listen to your last interview and the responses that you receive from people, you might be surprised by what you hear. Many personalities start questions with Do, Does, Can, Is, If, Will and when the replies are weak they blame it on the guest rather than taking into account their line of questioning.

Just like athletes take time to review their performance and find the areas of weakness, you have to do the same as a host. If interviewing is one of them, consider using short open ended questions and see what transpires during your next few conversations.

12: Multi-Purposed Social Content Promotion – A typical 3-4 hour show produces 12-16 segments per day. Those may each be pieces of content worth highlighting or there may be shorter snippets inside each segment that are more valuable to share with the audience. But what I don’t often see is a strategy to highlight content in various ways across social channels. That’s part of why I’m heading to San Diego this week to attend Social Media Marketing World 2019.

One thing I loved hearing at the BSM Summit in Chicago last year was how the Chicago Bulls approach social content. Their head of digital content Dan Moriarty explained how the Bulls expect content to be either Human, Iconic, Timely, Thumb Stopping, Inclusive or Differentiating, no piece of content should be published unless it checks at least three of those boxes. He also explained that the franchise looks to take one piece of content and find 10-12 ways to promote it across multiple platforms in different ways.

Does your station even create 3 ways to promote the best thing you did on the air yesterday? People have asked me before why I promote the BSM Podcast with so many different images, links, and video clips, and it’s for this very reason – you’re trying to stand out in a very crowded field.

Whether it’s a great monologue, an interview, a funny impression, or something just interesting that might generate a reaction from your audience, think about how you’re promoting that content socially. Between using different images with texts, audio links, written articles, and video highlights, there are plenty of ways to use your social channels to make your audience more aware and interested in your content.

13: Video is a Friend to Audio – One great advantage shows have now is the ability to utilize video to make their show more of a destination. If Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is where your audience starts their day, you have a chance to be in front of them before they reach their car. That’s a good thing.

But standing out from a few thousand people isn’t easy, which is why video can make a big difference. Two shows that I’ve enjoyed over time who I think do this well thru social media are The Morning Men on Mad Dog Sports Radio and The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte. There are many others I’m sure but these guys do a nice job of taking topical events and utilizing humor to make the audience want to hear more.

When you’re at home browsing thru your Twitter timeline and a video pops up of Mac being tripped by T-Bone in the studio just as Zion Williamson experienced on the court last week, it makes you stop, watch, and laugh. That then gives the audience a reason to want to spend more time with the show either on their phone via the app at home via their smart speaker, or thru the radio once they get into their car.

It starts with thinking about your audience and how they connect to your show. Reach them thru social channels by providing a visual peak behind the curtain and it’ll lead to more sampling of your audio content.

14: Quick Paced Updates – If you’ve read this site for a while you know I’m not a big fan of sports updates. However, if you’re going to do them, you might as well make the most of them. One way you do that is by keeping the pace moving. The audience doesn’t need a deep dive into the content, just the quick notes version of it.

As the anchor you may hate not having the ability to further explain the story, but that’s why the host is in the room. It’s their job to do that. Think of yourself as the audio version of House of Highlights. If it’s not brief and entertaining, the listeners will skim past it.

If you’re doing a :60 second update, don’t focus on 2-3 stories and include a :15 second soundbyte. That makes an update feel slow. I’ve always preferred 5-6 stories in the span and audio clips between :05-:07 or less. Some even pull it off with :03 clips. Give the audience the meat of the story, and remove the meaningless drivel surrounding it.

If it’s quick, fun, entertaining, and interesting, you’ll have done your job to steal :60 seconds of the listener’s time.

15: Research Your Audience – If your station has the ability to retain Edison Research, Jacobs Media, Amplifi Media, Coleman Insights or Harker Research, excellent. All do tremendous work to help brands learn more about their listeners.

But if you don’t have those resources available, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to learn more about your listeners. Whether it’s creating in-house focus groups, newsletter surveys, social page groups to encourage station feedback, social chats with the PD or face to face conversations at station remotes, all provide you with input that can help you improve your brand.

Programming and executing a show does require having instincts and trusting your gut but you also benefit by using data and feedback. Otherwise your decision making is solely based on what you think is right. Not what you know is right.

16: Do Your Homework – Getting a host to read and be informed isn’t difficult. Most understand that’s essential to doing the job. Others take it a step further and watch or attend games. You’d assume that’d be necessary to do this line of work, but not everyone spends 6 days a week watching sports. That said, those who do, often sound more convincing, and informed. They also tend to receive better access.

Sports is a never ending job. You watch, you read, you attend, you discuss in person, you debate on social media, it seriously never ends. If you want to be successful in any line of work you’ve got to do the things necessary to have success. This is a full time commitment. There are no shortcuts. It’s a long day and night, but it’s a fun day and night. I can think of much worse things to do than having to stay informed about the world of sports.

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Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

“I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading.”

Jason Barrett

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Courtesy: Don Nguyen

I’ve been thinking about this column all week because it’s a topic I’m passionate about and curious to hear the responses to. For starters, let me pose a few questions to you. Does quality journalism still matter? Is it worth paying for? Do advertisers see enough return on their investments with print outlets through associations with influential writers, publications and branded content? Are consumers hungry to read the full details of a story or are they satisfied with the cliff notes version and absorbing messages that fit inside of 140-280 characters?

The world we’re in is saturated with content. Attention spans are rapidly shrinking. Social media is both to blame and bless for that. The positive is that we’re exposed to more content than ever before. This means more opportunity to reach people and grow businesses. The challenge of course is standing out.

People listen, read and watch less of one thing now, opting for variety during the time they have available. The issue with that is that it often leads to being less informed. I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading. I see nearly three million people do it on this website alone and we’re small potatoes compared to mainstream brands. Clearly people like to learn.

I raise this topic because last week, Peter King announced his retirement although he left open the door for side projects. After forty plus years of writing the gold standard of NFL columns, King revealed he wanted to slow down and invest his time in other areas of life. Among his considerations for the future after taking a breather are teaching.

In a podcast interview with Richard Deitsch, King said “We may love this column but I doubt that it made enough money for NBC to pay what they were paying me. I don’t think words are very profitable anymore. It’s a sad thing but it’s what’s happened to our business.”

Later in the conversation, King discussed the difficulty he might face if speaking to students about whether or not to pursue working in the media industry. He acknowledged that the business is bad right now. However, he pointed out that if you can write and read, and be an intelligent thinking contributing member of society, there are a lot of jobs you can do beyond being a writer for a paper covering the NFL. You can teach English, work in PR or for a team or league website. But journalism is different now, and though it’s not impossible to do, having flexibility is important.

I agreed with most of King’s remarks and thought about the two different ways people might respond to them.

If you’re in agreement with Peter, you’ll point to the reduction in industry jobs, the changes in salaries, the lack of trust in media outlets, the economic uncertainty facing traditional operators, the shrinking ability to uncover truth, and the data that frequently supports video being hot, and print not so much.

Those who disagree will list the New York Times and The Athletic as examples of print brands that still matter. They’ll also mention the surge in newsletters, the arrival of new online outlets, and the daily communication between millions of people each day on social media, much of it revolving around conversations created or supported by text.

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

First, the notion that it’s harder now than before is one I’ll challenge. When I entered the business, I had to mail letters, send cassette tapes, and wait months for a response. There was no internet or opportunity to create a podcast, Substack, website or video to build an audience. I had to be selected by someone to have a chance to work. There were thousands like me who wanted a way in and were at the mercy of decision makers preferring my resume over someone else’s. I did exactly what King said on the podcast when he mentioned having to do other jobs to support yourself while pursing a dream.

Where I agree with King is when he mentioned words not being as profitable anymore. Are print reporters and columnists going to make what they once did? Probably not. There will always be exceptions just as there are in television and radio, but if you think you’re going to do one specific job and making a financial killing on it, prepare to be disappointed. Today, you better be able to wear different hats and create a lot of content in multiple places. Earning a lot for doing a little is a way of the past.

The one area where I’ll differ is when it comes to advertising. I believe there’s untapped value for brands in print. Recall with the written word remains strong. There’s also less advertising clutter in written stories than audio and video programming blocks. Advertisers may not seek out traditional print advertising anymore but branded content, newsletter associations, and social media placements remain valued.

What I admire greatly about King is that he evolved over the years. His written work on SI was must-read but that didn’t stop him from leaping into the online space and launching MMQB. The arrival of that microsite was done at the right point in time, and when SI began to change, King didn’t hang on, choosing to make the bold move and jump to NBC. Upon his arrival, he started contributing on television, podcasts, and expanding his profile on social media.

What you should take away from Peter is that you’ve got to constantly examine the business, and understand when it’s time to pivot, even if it means leaving your comfort zone. You also have to recognize that things are going to change and your job description will likely be one of them. If you stay married to what you once did, you’ll be in a tough spot. If you roll with the punches and embrace what’s new, you’ll survive and thrive.

You also have to understand that you’re going to be tied further to what you produce. Does your presence and performance grow advertising revenue? Are you speaking on behalf of brands and helping them move product? Do you grow subscriptions or readership to levels that make it easy for a company to invest significantly in you? Talent is subjective. Results aren’t. Those who create quality while boosting the bottom line will remain in demand.

Remember this in a few years when artificial intelligence becomes a bigger part of content creation and discovery. Those who adapt to it and work with it will be just fine. Those who reject it will be searching for new career paths. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s better stability in other industries. But there’s nothing like creating content around the world of sports and media. It just requires adaptability and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

BSM Summit Update:

In ten days we unite the sports media business in New York City for the 2024 BSM Summit. All of the sessions are now complete. I’m excited to add Natalie Marsh, General Manager of Lotus Communications in Las Vegas, Cody Welling, Station Manager of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, and Stephanie Prince, Vice President and Market Manager of Good Karma Brands West Palm Beach to our schedule. The full agenda for both days is posted on BSMSummit.com.

In addition, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have a few special appearances at the ESPN Radio After Party on Wednesday March 13th. Joining us on-site will be Evan Cohen, Chris Canty and Michelle Smallmon of UnSportsmanLike, Freddie Coleman and Harry Douglas of Freddie & Harry, and Chris Carlin from Carlin vs. Joe.

Thumbs Up:

Chris Mortensen: Rarely does the sports media industry collectively agree on anything but you won’t find much disagreement on Chris Mortensen. He was a special talent and human being. I was fortunate to see it firsthand as a producer at ESPN Radio. I then enjoyed many interactions with Mort as a program director lining up calls on the radio stations I ran. It didn’t matter what job you did or where you worked, Chris treated you well. His work was hall of fame worthy but it was the manner in which he interacted with people that truly made him a legend. Rest in peace, Mort. I’m sure the next wave of conversations with John Clayton are going to be amazing.

Mike Felger: It would’ve been easy to pile on and publicly root for a competitor to fail and fold. Instead, Felger took the high road, acknowledging that he’s rooting for WEEI to come out of bankruptcy in good shape. That’s what smart business people. Mike is comfortable in his own skin. He has the highest rated show in Boston and having a competitor to compete against as well as a potential landing spot when contracts come up is never a bad thing. Besides, why would anyone want to see friends and respected professionals lose an opportunity to work or listeners given less choice for sports talk entertainment? Nice job, Mike.

iHeartmedia: The company’s fourth quarter results were down year-to-year but they were above prior projections. iHeart also gained 16.6% growth in podcasting revenues during Q4, and just got stronger by luring Stephen A. Smith’s podcast away from Audacy. A pretty good week for Bob Pittman and his lieutenants.

Sportico: Jason Clinkscales is an easy guy to root for. He’s written quality content for Awful Announcing, is a sharp guy who enjoys the industry, and after a year full of personal tragedies, he deserved a break. That came last week when Sportico hired him as a reporter and editor on their breaking news team. Well done Sportico. Looking forward to reading the first piece.

National Association of Broadcasters: Creating buzz for conferences isn’t easy but the NAB’s recent announcement of having Daniel Anstandig of Futuri Media present a first-of-its-kind presentation at its April show alongside Ameca, an autonomously AI-powered humanoid robot has certainly increased conversation and intrigue. I’ll be in attendance for the event and am curious like many. I’m just hoping Joe Rogan isn’t right when he suggested this week that robots will jump out of an aircraft carrier with machine guns and do damage.

Thumbs Down:

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment: This isn’t a shot at the company. It’s more about losing a talented media executive. Matt Hutchings, the company’s former COO and EVP was a key part of developing Altitude Sports. Under his watch, the Nuggets and Avalanche won titles, and the company cemented its position in the local sports radio space.

The dispute with Comcast over airing Nuggets and Avs games is well documented, and Hutchings will get some of the blame for the teams not being broadcast on local TV but I tend to believe decisions of that magnitude land at ownership’s doorstep. Regardless, KSE is weaker today than yesterday due to losing Hutchings.

New York Jets: I get it. 98.7 ESPN New York moving away from the FM dial provides a concern for the franchise, and in other cities, football does perform well on classic rock stations. I just see the fit with Q104.3 as an odd one. If Aaron Rodgers returns and the Jets finally take off the way their fans hoped they would last year, it’s going to feel strange hearing their games locally on a channel that has little content time dedicated to the team beyond game days.

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Erika Ayers and Spike Eskin Led Barstool Sports and WFAN to Success But Their Exits Raise Questions

“Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions.”

Jason Barrett

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There were two big management moves last week that have sports media folks talking. First was Erika Ayers Badan announcing her exit from Barstool Sports as the brand’s CEO. Second was the news of Spike Eskin returning to Sportsradio WIP and exiting his role as the VP of Programming for WFAN and CBS Sports Radio.

Let’s start with Erika. What she did for Barstool was spectacular. In 2016, I thought Barstool had a strong understanding of social media, unique talent and voices, podcasts that were cutting through, and a connection with younger fans that traditional outlets couldn’t deliver. They also produced events that drew a lot of public attention. But I didn’t view Barstool as a buttoned up business capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Erika Nardini aka Erika Ayers Badan and Dave Portnoy deserve credit for making it one.

Erika told me at our 2020 BSM Summit that Barstool didn’t have a P&L sheet when she joined. She had to build systems, hire staff, grow the sales arm of Barstool, and help Dave Portnoy find investors. What followed were marketing deals with major brands, content partnerships with different media outlets, a massive investment from Penn National, and a changed perception of Barstool as a mainstream player. They were no longer just the cool, rebellious brand on social media and the internet that gave no f’s and generated attention. They became game changers in the sports content space.

So why leave?

If Barstool is now clear of restrictions and able to operate without investor influence, that should be enticing, right? In her farewell video Erika said that she felt she accomplished what she set out to do. I understand and appreciate that. But I can’t help but wonder if less structure and investor involvement made it less appealing to stay. She did join the brand after The Chernin Group got involved not before it.

I have no inside knowledge on this, and I’m not suggesting Barstool won’t continue growing and dominating. They likely will. It just raises questions about how the brand will manage sales, PR, critical internal and external issues, and battles with suitors when they try to lure away Barstool’s on-air and sales talent.

The business end of Barstool appears weaker today than it did a week ago. That’s more of a testament to what Erika did than a knock on anyone still there. To grow revenue the way she did the past 8 years speaks volumes about her skill as an executive. Wherever she lands next, it’s likely she’ll make a difference.

Will it be easier to do business with Barstool moving forward? Time will tell. I don’t expect they’ll make it easier for media outlets like ours to cover them. But if I’ve learned anything in eight years of following them it’s don’t ever bet against Dave Portnoy. Too often people have. Each time he’s proven them wrong. Portnoy has built a powerhouse brand, and grown the business by zigging when others zagged. But how Barstool moves forward without Erika will be of great interest to many in 2024.

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Spike Eskin will be leaving WFAN and his position as the VP of Programming for Audacy to return to WIP and co-host the afternoon show. On paper this is a great move for WIP. Spike understands Philadelphia and WIP’s audience, he lives and breathes Philly sports, and has a great rapport with the entire lineup. He’s maintained an on-air presence through his Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, and I believe that moving into a host role alongside Ike Reese and Jack Fritz will be a seamless transition for all involved. Being in his mid to late 40’s, he’s also got plenty years ahead of him to cement his spot as an on-air talent. I expect Spike, Ike and Jack to do well together.

But to exit WFAN and the top programming role at Audacy in less than three years, raises a few questions. Why is this opportunity better for Spike than the programming role he just held? Was he happy at WFAN? Were folks happy with him at WFAN? Many have opinions about WFAN’s changes the past few years. Some love the fresher approach. Others don’t. That’s what makes sports radio in New York fun, people care.

As a follower of WFAN for over thirty years, it’s a different brand than the one I grew up on. That’s not a bad thing by the way. I’m almost 50. If Spike and Chris Oliviero programmed to please the Mike and the Mad Dog crowd that’d be a mistake. Attention spans are shorter, content options are larger, digital is more important and the days of a city flocking to the radio at 1pm to hear a host’s first words are gone. Judging from the ratings, revenue, and turnout for Boomer and Gio’s last live event, the station is doing well. They’ve got a lot of talent, a stronger digital game, and they’ll continue thriving. Spike deserves credit for the brand’s progress.

But why is a hosting role and less influence over a brand better for Eskin? Spike has been a part of WIP’s afternoon show before. Though leading the show vs. being the third mic is a different animal. He also programmed the station really well. In fact, Spike did such a good job at WIP that it landed him the top programming position in sports radio. Is there a personal part to this given that his father made afternoons in Philly must-listen for 25 years? Or is it about the personal relationship he has with Ike and Jack?

And how does this work from a financial standpoint? It’s likely that Spike was paid more to lead Audacy New York than Jon Marks was to host WIP’s afternoon show. If that’s the case, and nothing changes for Eskin, and WIP just adds payroll, does it affect what Chris Oliviero can spend on Audacy New York’s next brand leader? I can’t see that happening at all. Chris is going to make sure he has what he needs to land the right leader in New York.

Finances only come up because it’s known that Audacy is going through a bankruptcy process. Adding expenses right now seems unlikely. However, to add someone with Eskin’s skill and track record at a station where he previously shined is smart business, especially when you consider that he can win as a host and programmer if needed. That’s going to naturally lead to folks asking ‘will Spike eventually host PM drive and program WIP? If so, what does that mean for current PD Rod Lakin?’ ‘What happens when talent at WIP that Spike had a hand in hiring don’t like what Lakin suggests or if WIP’s ratings decline?’

Spike told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie that’s not on his radar and the idea of joining the afternoon show was raised by PD Rod Lakin. Some of you may read that and be surprised that Lakin would suggest it. But Rod stepped into the role that Eskin previously held. I’m sure they’ve talked plenty the past few years. If their relationship is strong that should help. I don’t know it well enough to say if it is or isn’t. This move suggests Lakin’s more concerned with strengthening WIP than worrying about himself or industry chatter.

If anyone can navigate the situation and make it work, it’s Rod Lakin. He’s calm, cool, collected, smart and doesn’t get flustered by noise and pressure. I know this because we’ve known each other for over a decade, and I introduced him to folks years ago, which led to him landing the Philly role. If you read Derek Futterman’s piece on Angelo Cataldi last month, the Philly icon shared a small example of what makes Rod a great leader.

But Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions. The flurry of texts and emails I received about this last week was insane. I’m sure it was even louder on the local level. Many will suggest that Audacy will use this as an opportunity to eventually reduce expenses and stay strong by having Eskin handle two roles. Only those involved know the answers but one thing I know is that Rod Lakin knows how to program. If he’s not supported there, he’ll have plenty of interest elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Spike excels in afternoons, Rod leads WIP to greater success, and WFAN finds a great leader to move the brand forward. But until the smoke clears, noise will fill the air in the big apple and city of brotherly love.

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Thumbs Up:

Colin Dunlap, 93.7 The Fan: While on the air last week, Dunlap received a call from a 65-year old woman named Colette. She told the Pittsburgh host that she and her husband were disabled and after undergoing 28 surgeries, she was physically struggling to clear her walkway of snow. Hearing her story moved Dunlap to react. He then called on the audience to step up and help. Shortly thereafter, one of 93.7 The Fan’s listeners, a gentleman named Tom, phoned in, and made the drive over to help out a fellow listener. That’s the power of live radio at its best, all possible by Dunlap reading and reacting to the situation perfectly.

Clay Travis, Outkick: Whether you love him or hate him, Clay delivers strong opinions and commands your attention. A perfect example was his Friday night reaction video to the demise of Sports Illustrated. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth checking out. It’s nearing one million views at the time of my writing this.

VSiN: The sports betting network based out of Las Vegas recently redesigned its website and the new look and feel of it is excellent. Clean throughout, easy to navigate, and rich of content. Nice work by Bill Adee all involved.

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Thumbs Down:

Sports Illustrated: Laying off the majority of its staff was bad enough, but to notify people by email or have them find out on social media shows a lack of class and a disgusting approach to running a business. All of those traits by the way are the exact opposite of what SI once stood for – RESPECT.

During SI’s glory days, the content was must read. But in recent years, the outlet landed in the hands of operators who valued clicks over quality. Many predicted and expected this once storied brand to crumble. Unfortunately, the naysayers were proven right.

To those affected, I’m sorry for the crummy news. Some will rebound and help other established brands. Some will launch their own platforms or exit the industry. Anyone looking to do future freelancing work is invited to email [email protected].

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BSM Summit Update:

I’m happy to share that Good Karma Brands president Steve Politziner, Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin and ESPN Chicago program director Danny Zederman have been added to our lineup. We’ve also finalized two of our four awards recipients and are working on a third. I’m hoping to share those details soon along with a few other high profile additions to this year’s show. I’ll be heading to Las Vegas during Super Bowl week, which is when we reveal our BSM Top 20 of 2023, and after that I’m hoping to finalize our schedule so it can be released by the end of February.

I know everyone likes waiting until the last minute to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. If you want to avoid being left out though, the time to act is now. Everything you need is posted on BSMSummit.com. Our deadline for hotel room reservations is February 13th. We’ve also sent out free ticket contests by email to the advertising community and tri-state area colleges. We’ll have two more this week for executives and programmers. Be sure to check your spam folder just in case it doesn’t arrive in your inbox.

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2-Seconds to Vent:

Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, John Skipper, Nick Khan, Colin Cowherd, Paul Finebaum, Clay Travis, Craig Carton, Adam Schein, Michael Kay, and Fred Toucher all have something in common with many others across the industry. They’re accomplished professionals with plenty on their plate yet when contacted, they always respond. Most of the time, they do so quickly. That’s greatly appreciated.

If those tasked with running the largest media companies in America, and hosting shows with content, advertising, and audience commitments can find time to respond, why is it so hard for other professionals to do the same? If you don’t want to be featured on BSM, speak at a Summit, market with us or answer a question, just say ‘not interested‘. It takes two seconds. The best in the business understand the value of relationships and promotion. Unfortunately, many do not. I don’t use this platform to draw attention to these issues but sometimes I wonder, should I?

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Original Projects:

On BNM this week we’re doing five days of features on NPR professionals as part of ‘Public Radio Week‘. It’s not easy pulling it off but we’re trying some different stuff. Next week we launch ‘Where Are They Now‘ on BSM. Peter Schwartz will have the first feature next Tuesday. Coming up in February, we drop the BSM Top 20, Derek Futterman’s ‘Day Spent With‘ series which includes spending a day with professionals across different areas of the industry, and we’ll profile a number of black voices on BNM as part of the brand’s focus on Black History month. I hope you’ll check them out whenever time allows.

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Recommended Viewing:

If you’re looking for a movie to watch during the week, check out Blackberry if you haven’t already done so. The film is about the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone, and I thought it was excellent. It had a similar feel to the movie Jobs, and the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Worth your time if you’ve got two hours available to watch something different than live games or sports programming.

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If you have a question or comment you’d like addressed in a future column, please send it to [email protected]. That same email address can be used to pass along press releases, interview requests or news tips. Thanks for reading!

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The 2024 BNM Summit is Coming To Washington D.C.

“Tickets will be regularly priced at $299.99 but for the month of January they’re on-sale for $199.99. Prices will not be this low after February 1st.”

Jason Barrett

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2024 BNM Summit

What better way to kick off the new year than to make an announcement. We’ve been working on our plan for the 2024 BNM Summit for months and I’m stoked to share the news today with the news media industry.

In 2023, we had an excellent debut event in Nashville. I recognize that I’m a new face to many in news talk radio and television. For that reason, I wasn’t sure what to expect last time. Would folks make the trip? What would our sponsor support look like? Could I create the right agenda for those in attendance? There were a lot of questions to answer. Judging from the feedback, I think we passed the test.

As we talked about the next one and reviewed industry responses, I knew we’d have to raise our game in an election year. We listed New York City, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington D.C. as possible destinations, and all were attractive for different reasons. But we can only pick one, and I’m excited to share that the 2024 BNM Summit is coming to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C..

The dates of the show will be Wednesday September 4th and Thursday September 5th. We’ll have more details leading up to the show. One thing you’ll want to take advantage of now is our special sale on tickets. Our regular price will be $299.99 but for the month of January tickets are on-sale for $199.99. Prices will not be this low after February 1st. We have 250 seats in the venue so it’s first come, first served.

When we considered the possibility of bringing the Summit to D.C., we knew it had a ton of benefits. There were great options for speakers, and numerous brands and networks operating locally. Being accessible to politicians, the NAB, and other businesses was also appealing. All that was needed was the right venue with nearby hotel options. Fortunately, we found it.

The Jack Morton Auditorium at The George Washington University will serve as our location for September’s show. It’s an awesome venue, which has been used before for high profile events. There’s also great parking and an awesome food court nearby, and it’s close to the main local landmarks. Having 3-4 hotels within walking distance was another advantage. Speaking of which, we’ll have more details on our hotel options soon.

The key information to be aware of for now are the dates of the show, and the special January ticket price. We’ll add speakers in the upcoming months and email attendees for insight on what they wish to learn at our next event. We expect this to be a strong conference, and I’m excited to bring the industry together a half a mile away from the White House.

If your group sponsored last year’s show or didn’t and would like to, reach out to Stephanie Eads. She has this year’s sponsorship deck now available. We had outstanding support last year, and expect demand for this one to be even higher. Stephanie can be reached at [email protected] or 415-312-5553.

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