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Networking, Notes, And New Ideas At The BSM Summit

“I came back with a thousand ideas and I sat down with the program and sales director when I got back and went over everything with them that I learned from the conference. All of it was discussed.”

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In one week, the greatest sports radio event of the year will take place in New York City. I can say that because they’re not my words. They’re the words of several talented hosts across the country that will come together in The Big Apple next week for the two-day BSM Summit. 

There will be familiar faces that will recognize each other from last year’s summit in Los Angeles, as well as new faces from several markets across the country. Whichever you fall under, everyone attending is coming with the same two intentions: To learn and to network. 

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“What Mel Kiper is to the NFL Draft is what Jason Barrett is to sports talk radio,” said Marc James of WEEI in Boston. “Really, when it comes down to it, this is Radio Row on steroids, because there’s opportunities with industry people and decision makers to get one-on-one time. You can actually talk to some of the big wigs out there and people don’t have to necessarily worry about their live show going on.

“This is like what the National Association of Broadcasters do every year in Vegas with the TV side. That’s what Jason has done for sports talk radio. This will be my first time here, but from everything I’ve heard about it, to me, it’s not why should you go, it’s why would you not want to go?”

Like James mentioned, this year’s summit will be his first. But regardless, his expectations are still high. Mark Zinno of Atlanta Sports X also has high expectations of this year’s event, because of how much he took back to his station from last year’s summit in Los Angeles. 

“Why do people in radio love going to the Super Bowl?” said Zinno. “I know it’s not because they love interviewing people with Campbell’s Chunky Soup, razor companies, deodorant and everything else. They go there because they’re around everyone else in the industry. It is the prime networking event for people in the industry. It’s the same with BSM. But it goes beyond that. When I first went I didn’t know what to expect and I took a ton of notes on everything. I came back with a thousand ideas and I sat down with the program and sales director when I got back and went over everything with them that I learned from the conference. All of it was discussed.”

So in those two quotes you can sum up most of what talent can get out of the BSM Summit. One, the most prime networking opportunity of the year. Two, a chance to learn from the best, hone your craft and even take new ideas back to your station. If you’re in New York City next week, that should be your focus. 

But admittedly, it’s not easy to just walk up to someone and start a conversation with someone that’s a well-known executive in the business. Yes, Bruce Gilbert may be one of the nicest guys in the business, but it can be intimidating to try and rub elbows with the best sports radio has to offer. So how do you approach it?

“Just let them get to know you,” said Zinno. “Joke, laugh and hangout. It’s those type of things that puts you in mind when someone needs something. Let’s see if he’s available. That’s the type of relationship you’re hoping to create there.”

“My advice would be to do it in a way that isn’t ‘I want this from you.’” said Heath Cline of 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. “Make it feel more like, hey, we’re colleagues and we’re talking. It gives you a chance you’re not normally going to get to build a relationship with somebody.”

“I think it can be a little intimidating when you first step in because you see all these people running major radio stations, corporations and companies,” said Jim Costa of 1130 WDFN The Fan and 96.1 ESPN. “But it’s done in a way that’s pretty laid-back and it’s done in a way that everyone is very approachable and wants to be approached. Last year in Los Angeles, that second day, I was much more self-aware that I needed to go up and talk to more people and they were very receptive to it. I would tell anybody attending the conference the first time to just shake hands and start talking radio. People who are at this conference eat that stuff up.”

Though networking can lead to opportunities down the road, it’s not the only way it can be beneficial at The BSM Summit. In fact, many, if not most, of the people who attend are perfectly content with their current hosting roles. Networking can mean different things to different people. 

“I think when people hear networking they automatically assume your future,” said Brady Farkas of The Game in Burlington, VT. “But for me it’s gone a long way towards meeting people in the business that have helped me exchange contacts for getting guests. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the talent that are speaking at the summit to hopefully get to know them and establish a relationship. I’ve met people on Radio Row that have turned out to be recurring guests on our show. If I could just pull out one person from the BSM Summit I think I’d be amazing for our small station.”

“I was just chatting it up with John Goulet at the mixer,” said Zinno. “After a couple of minutes I said I’m Mark Zinno by the way, he looked and said, I know who you are. I was like, how does he know who I am? He works at a national radio show with Colin Cowherd in California and I’m in Atlanta, how the hell does he know who I am? But it’s those kinds of things where they see your work and say, ok, I know that guy.”

 “For me, it’s about furthering the connections that I have and to also make new ones,” said James. “And here’s the thing: you get a chance to have face time with so many people. It’s one thing to send an email and say, hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. It’s another thing to talk to someone where it’s off the record and so much more personal and casual.”

“For me it’s not about going to look for other jobs,” said Zinno. “I’m content with where I am, but it could be one of those things where I run into Justin Craig and he says he has some weekend shifts coming up with people out and he asks if I’m willing to do it. Absolutely. Its things like that, which can make all the difference in the world.”

If you don’t walk out of the two-day BSM Summit with several ideas on how to improve, it’s your own fault. The opportunities are endless and the insight is second-to-none. Spending money out of your pocket and showing up is only half the battle. Make a plan to take notes, ask questions and be as engaged as possible. What’s great about this event, is even though you walk-in with a certain level of expectation, you’ll walk away with something you never previously considered, be it on the social media, talent, sales or management side. 

“There were conversations about Twitch last year,” said Cline. “And it got me thinking, not so much about Twitch, but technology that you’re not thinking about that can apply to something else. So for the South Carolina spring game, we did a Twitch stream of us in the booth, which, wasn’t some sort of monster hit, but it just shows that you always need to be trying new things. It can’t be like, well, I’m not on Twitch because I’m not a video gamer. If your listeners are on Twitch you better at least try to see if you can meet them on their turf.”

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“It was really cool to see the camaraderie the industry has,” said Costa. “Whether it was someone from Cumulus or iHeart or Entercom, they may be rivals outside of that conference, but inside those walls it was about collaboration. Just seeing how established people still wanting to learn and grow, I mean that’s why I was there, to learn and grow.”

“I have a unique role, and one that a lot of people in small markets have, as a host and a program director,” said Farkas. “I’m really excited about the fact there’s something for everybody, especially since I fall into a bunch of different categories. I’m looking forward to learning from some of the top programmers in the country about managing a staff and talent. Working with the sales team better, coming up with better promotions, how to operate a budget better and stretch it farther, things like that. And then from a talent standpoint, just looking forward to learning about social media and what we can do to engage the audience.”

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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