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Jason Fitz Won’t Let His Own Ideas Get In His Way

“Some of the people speaking at the BSM Summit have been huge influences to me and have really helped me improve my craft.”

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If there’s ever been a comparison between sports radio and the country music business, Jason Fitz knows exactly what it is. No, it’s not some Colin Cowherd type of comparison where Tom Brady is George Strait and Baker Mayfield is Randy Travis, it’s more of something that be plans to implement this week at the BSM Summit in New York City. 

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Growing up as a musician and then later becoming a fiddler for The Band Perry, Fitz was routinely at events where he needed to make connections and network to other industry professionals. Specifically, this happened at the Academy of Country Music (ACM’s) in Las Vegas every year. Even though the Country Music Awards (CMA’s) were in Nashville and maybe looked at by some as the bigger event, the ACM’s were more beneficial to Fitz because of the networking opportunities Las Vegas provided with everyone in the industry being out of town and in the same location. 

“Everyone is sitting at one bar in the MGM Grand and hanging out,” said Fitz. “The opportunity to reconnect and have real conversations, that’s where you can absolutely meet and connect with people.”

So when it comes to the correlation to sports radio, the BSM Summit is giving Fitz the exact kind of networking opportunity he enjoyed at major award shows during his country music career. Just like then, it’s the cocktail parties that provide the best opportunities. 

“I think it’s the most opportunistic moment for the whole event,” said Fitz. ”Ultimately, what we’re all trying to get in our work is the benefit of the doubt. If I walk up to someone and say, ‘hey, listen to my music,’ they’re going to think it stinks. That’s just how it works. If I get to know somebody and they eventually find out I’m a musician and they hear that same song, they’re going to take a much closer look. The sports radio business is the same way. 

“When I first told people that I wanted to do this, the number of high-level people and agents, things like that, they were laughing at me telling me I had no shot because they have never heard me before. It took them getting to know me, and then thinking, you know what, I know him, I like him, he seems like a good guy and I think he’s going to be good at this. And then all of a sudden, your work is received totally differently. Being in a casual atmosphere allows for that personal connection that eventually leads to people giving you the benefit of the doubt in your work. That’s life-changing.”

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Fitz’ ascent from being a musician to a high-level talent at ESPN is, in a lot of ways, similar to that of Pat McAfee, the man of the hour at the BSM Summit Kickoff on Tuesday night. Both have had incredibly strong starts to their career and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. So if you think about it, all Fitz really needs out of the BSM Summit is an opportunity to shake a few new hands and connect with more high-profile people in the industry. He’s at ESPN, what does he even expect to get out of the panels this week? 

“The minute we stop learning, what are we doing?” said Fitz. “Some of the people speaking at the BSM Summit have been huge influences to me and have really helped me improve my craft. The opportunity to be in the same room with so many great brains is everything this business, right?”

That’s the amazing thing about the BSM Summit. It doesn’t matter who you are, major market talent, small market PD, CEO for a major brand, no matter what you do or where you do it, you’re going to get something out of the two-day event. 

“One thing I learned a long time ago in the music business is jobs change, stations change, everything changes, people are what really matter,” said Fitz. “I mean that in the sense of the network in a community. The opportunity to get face-to-face conversations with other people that are all chasing the same thing and trying to get better is the opportunity to grow your network. The network is everything, that’s what I’ve learned at ESPN, too. You can work on the show and then six months later, everyone on the show is on a different show and you have new opportunities. I think it’s really key to get in there and really have the opportunity to make lasting relationships.”

It takes those types of lasting relationships to make the quick ascent that Fitz has enjoyed the last few years in sports radio. It just so happens that one of his biggest supporters will also be in New York City this week at the BSM Summit. 

“First and foremost, Scott Masteller helped change my life,” Fitz said. “The opportunity get a face-to-face with him, I haven’t seen Scott in a long time. I still lean on Scott for input and the opportunity to get better. Other than that I’m really going in open-minded. I’m interested to hear from Pat McAfee because I think his rise is one of the most interesting stories in broadcasting the last couple years. What Barstool Sports has done and the fact that there’s an element for them too, I mean I look across the board and say we should all be learning from everyone. I like those networking opportunities as continual growth.”

It’ll be interesting to note what talent, such as Fitz, will take away the most from New York City this week. Regardless of what it is, the guy who’s always bet recklessly on himself will have the same approach he’s always had: To listen. 

“I’ve always looked around to find respected people and take their input,” said Fitz. “For me, growing up as a musician, coaching is everything. So that means teaching is everything, too. I was lucky to get really good advice but I also listened to that advice and implemented it. People are out there willing to help, but more times than not, we let our own ideas get in the way. I refuse to do that in my entire career. I will step back and listen to what someone thinks, then implement and try it. It’s really changed my life.”

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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