The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “With Stugotz” is always written in a smaller, less noticeable font, like it’s there to give credit, but not attract an audience.
If you listen to The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz for just 15 minutes, you quickly realize Jon Weiner (Stugotz) is not just a sidekick, he’s vital to their success. And if you listen to the show for only 15 minutes, you’re also likely to realize you don’t get the show.
No show is better at creating a community, no show is better at making their listeners feel like they’re part of something special, and no show is better at creating organized chaos. In the last 15 years, they’ve been one of the most successful shows on radio, and Stugotz knows he’s just as important as his co-host of bigger font.
BC: How’d you get your start in radio?
STU: It’s something I always knew I wanted. Growing up with WFAN, Mike and the Mad Dog, I remember driving with my dad and hearing two guys talking sports who sounded like me and you. I asked my dad if they were getting paid for this. And when he told me ‘yes, a lot,’ I said that’s what I want to do.
It was more difficult to break into market one than it is Fort Lauderdale. I moved down here without a plan and stumbled on it, which basically summarizes my entire life. I was working for the Dolphins and Marlins in their sales office. I became good friends with Boog Sciambi who was the Marlins radio voice at the time, and when he started doing middays on WQAM, he helped me get an internship.
BC: And how did you end up helping launch 790 The Ticket without much experience managing a station?
STU: WQAM had no job for me after my internship, so I went back to New York and started working for the Knicks and Rangers making pretty good money. After a year, I got a call about producing for Hank Goldberg on WQAM. It was afternoon drive, major market, that was my foot in the door. I quit my job in New York getting paid six figures to take the job offering me about $4 an hour. But it was executive producer of a big show, if you want to be in this business that’s the type of risk you need to take.
While I was working on Hank’s show, sports radio really started to take off and most major markets were sprouting a second station. I saw an opening in Miami for something younger and hipper, so I put a group together and we leased 790. Paid a hefty price for programming rights and marketing, but we turned it into 790 The Ticket and I’m proud to say it’s still going.
BC: How’d you get Dan to be part of the new station?
STU: Toward the end of Hank’s show, it became a daily ripping of Le Batard and I didn’t even really know who Dan was! I read him in the Herald, but we never met. I figured if he could agitate Hank this much in print, he would be pretty damn good on-air.
We knew Boog Sciambi mutually, so he helped connect us and I told Dan I was starting a new sports radio station, but I’m not doing it unless you’re in afternoon drive. Dan loves being part of an underdog and he was certainly eager to take on Hank and WQAM, a station that hadn’t been very nice to him.
BC: Was the plan for you to be Dan’s co-host from the beginning?
STU: I was going to do the midday show and about a week before we launched, Dan said he didn’t want to do afternoons by himself. He originally wanted Boog as his co-host, but he was doing Marlins games and couldn’t leave QAM. But Boog told Dan I’d be a perfect co-host for him. I ditched the dream of doing my own show and it was the best call I ever made.
BC: Was there instant chemistry when you guys launched?
STU: It was awful. It started off with me interviewing Dan for three hours a day, we had no chemistry. We realized quickly Dan needed to drive the show because I was just guessing what he wanted to talk about.
BC: [Laughs] Were you treating him like he was a guest columnist?
STU: Dan will tell you stories of sleepless nights, riding around his neighborhood on a bicycle trying to figure out how to do the show. We had two different philosophies, I wanted to be Mike and the Mad Dog, Dan wanted to be everything but that. Eventually, we decided rather than me guessing what Dan wants to talk about, he’ll drive the show. That subtle change was huge. The other element that helped came a few months in, when Dan wanted to hire Marc Hochman. He had radio experience, a great sense of humor and was Dan’s best friend.
“I definitely knew the show could have a massive, wide appeal,” said Hochman, who’s in the midst of his own successful tenure hosting afternoons alongside Channing Crowder on WQAM and The Ticket. “We went in for three or four hours every day and just had a great time – and that translated to listeners having a great time. The majority of talk shows when we started, sports specifically, were super serious, even sour. There was no sports show that just felt like a party you wanted to be at. When we were having so many laughs every show, that’s when I knew the show could be a huge hit nationally.”
BC: The goal of any show is to build a community with your listeners. If you ask people which shows do it best, you start with Stern, Dan Patrick gets mentioned for sports radio and then you guys are in that category equally. At what point did you realize you had that level of show?
STU: Making everyone feel invested and part of the show, building that community was super important to Dan and ultimately became important to me. We wanted the audience to participate and contribute to the content of the show.
About three years in is when I knew we were building this community right. I got the ratings book and looked down toward the mid-teens, which is where we usually ranked for men 25-54. I didn’t see us there. Rather than look up, I scrolled down into the 20’s and still didn’t see us anywhere and thought, ‘shit we didn’t rate, our show sucks.’ I start scrolling back up and finally found us at a strange place – number one. I fell out of my chair.
It was validation, it felt really good to get that number one, and from there, we always stayed in the top-three.
“There isn’t a sports radio show in the country that has more of a loyal following than the Le Batard Show,” said The Ticket’s former morning host Jorge Sedano, who now hosts afternoons for ESPN Los Angeles. “I’ve been to their events and they are unmatched in the industry. Heck, their fans are so into the show – they’ve spawned off their own podcasts that get traction within the community of the Le Batard universe. Many of the people associated with the show, myself included, have made appearances on these off shoot podcasts. It’s truly a unique connection between the audience and that show. Nothing like it.”
BC: How important is The Shipping Container and the ability to integrate different people, different personalities to the show, was that something you both wanted from the start?
STU: Invaluable. We always wanted as many voices as we could bring to the show, especially to lend to the funniness, wackiness and craziness. But even more importantly, to provide perspective and expertise.
The executive producer was always a major part of our show. But as we grow older, we realize it’s super important for the show to stay younger. The demo we go for is 25-54 and the closer you get to that 54, the more you realize you need to be closer to 25. Dan’s 51, I’m 47, we started incorporating Billy, Chris, Mike, The Shipping Container and other young voices because we love our crew, they help keep us young and keep the audience young.
BC: What about the ‘you don’t get the show’ approach and the ability to make the show something that is inclusive in terms of anyone is welcome to listen, but the content is exclusive to the people that do listen?
STU: It’s the most important thing we do, and it goes back to that community. One of the ways you create a community is by making them feel like they understand something that no one else does. We make the ‘you don’t get the show’ club seem like it’s really small, but it’s massive.
It can be frustrating because the traditional sports radio listener might only tune in for 15 minutes and they’re probably wondering ‘what the hell is this?!’ But (executive producer) Mike Ryan reminds us about the younger generation and the way they consume content because that’s who we’re going after. My kids listen to podcasts, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, not FM radio.
Even some people at ESPN don’t get what we do! They just took the SportsCenter updates away from me because they said it wasn’t professional enough. But that’s what we were going for! I’ve done everything in sports radio, I promise I can do traditional SportsCenter updates – we were trying to make those funny and the audience loved it. But some of the people at ESPN didn’t realize we were doing it on purpose and that’s frustrating.
BC: Knowing the future of radio is digital and where a lot of your audience already is, did it bother you when ESPN took away a terrestrial hour?
STU: Dan looked at it as a demotion. I’m not going to say it felt good. I was upset and our audience was upset, but what happens is the more you push us down, the more emboldened our audience becomes. I know the future is digital. I’m in my car right now, all my apps are on my dashboard, what I don’t see is a radio.
I always wonder how Dan and I would do if we were digital only. The big three in terms of sports and rec podcasts are us, Simmons and Pardon My Take. We’re competing simply by repurposing our radio show into a podcast. How big would our show be if we weren’t already broadcasting it nationally on the radio? So now we’re doing one or two hours a day where it’s digital only and I’m excited to explore that space and see how big it can be.
BC: Do you want the terrestrial and digital hours to sound like different shows? Or do you want the terrestrial listeners to feel like they didn’t get a complete show if they don’t hear the podcast?
STU: Right now, because of Dan’s TV schedule, we’re taping the third hour later in the day. But ultimately, we want the third hour to be an extension of the two-hour radio show. So if you’re listening live, you feel like you have to be part of that third hour.
BC: Do you like the freedom offered with digital? Maybe the Le Batard Show brand is able to distance itself from Mickey Mouse a bit in those hours?
STU: 100 percent. For starters, there are no commercials to interrupt us, we appreciate the sponsors, but they’re placed, not forced in. The time is flexible, we can just keep going. It’s not a big deal, but we can curse. The digital space is more liberating and it definitely gives us more freedom. And Dan likes freedom. [Laughs]
BC: Does ESPN give you guys the freedom to address every issue you want?
STU: ESPN has been great. I know our listeners are upset about us losing an hour because it feels like a shot at us. But ESPN has a digital monster on their hands with our show and that’s the future.
They haven’t just been good bosses, they’ve been great. When Dan and I joined ESPN, we were worried about the concept and them controlling us. They promised us that they wouldn’t and they really haven’t interfered since we joined. If they haven’t interfered on terrestrial, they certainly won’t on digital.
BC: Do you think the pandemic advanced the decision to give you guys a bigger digital platform? I think about my own listening habits, and they’ve changed in recent months. I was always in the camp of wanting a traditional five-hour local radio show, but now I listen to a lot more podcasts and a lot less terrestrial radio.
STU: A lot of industries have learned a lot from these past few months, so it’s possible, but we were likely headed toward this move anyway because our podcast numbers were so strong.
In the last few months, people ask ‘how do you do a show without sports?’ We were waiting for this moment our entire lives [Laughs]. The harder part was getting used to doing the show from different locations. I know our show seems like an unscripted mess, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, a lot of producing on the fly, a lot of eye contact.
Nobody does more research on this than ESPN and I think they’ve stumbled on the idea that a two-hour show has a better chance of getting terrestrial ratings than four hours. Combine it all – the pandemic, shorter shows, the future being digital, it all contributes to what we’re doing.
BC: What’s your show prep? Most shows build a show sheet with segment topics, some bullet points and use that. But how do you create what sounds like organized chaos?
STU: Organized chaos, I like that. A lot of our content is produced, a lot of it also comes from conversations that spill out of commercial breaks.
I’m not sure anyone consumes more ESPN than I do. I love games, I love sports, so Dan can always rely on me to bring that. And when serious topics get put on our desk, there is no one better than Dan at discussing social issues, racial inequality, the president. It gives us credibility to play around with everything else.
We equate Dan to a dad at home trying to get serious work done and we’re the kids trying to prevent that. That’s where I think the organized chaos you mentioned comes from, me just reacting to Dan.
“Stugotz is the on-air glue that holds everything together on the show,” said ESPN Radio program director Liam Chapman. “He can play whatever role he needs to at any moment, he’s obviously more than willing to be the butt of the joke, and he’s shown his ability to give strong opinions, book guests and be much more. It’s a testament to the longevity of the show that Stugotz is willing to play all these roles and keep the chemistry flowing between Dan and the rest of the Shipping Container.”
BC: It’s unrealistic to expect someone can talk on the radio three hours a day for 15 years and not say something that comes out wrong, but has your approach to radio changed as society becomes more politically correct? The interview with Martina Navratilova in 2010, I don’t know if that goes over as well in 2020.
(In 2010, Stugotz referred to Navratilova as a “bitch” after she ended an interview with Le Batard on 790 The Ticket)
STU: Well that interview didn’t go over well then either and I certainly didn’t feel good about it when it happened. I was a father of twin daughters ten years ago, I’m still a father of twin daughters ten years later, I wasn’t proud of that interview then and I wouldn’t be proud of it now. What we’re talking about is have ramifications changed, because sometimes an apology isn’t enough.
I think any host in America would say the same thing, you constantly need to reprogram because if you want to just remain a caveman your entire life, shame on you. And it’s not just society changing, with age comes perspective. I know my character, I know my role on the show, but I do try to be more mature, more thoughtful of peoples’ feelings than I used to be.
BC: Can it be difficult to navigate the line between terrestrial and digital? There are things that can get you in trouble if you’re a play-by-play announcer, but a talk radio host might be able to make the same comment. Similarly, there are things you can’t say on talk radio that you can say on a podcast. There are different levels of what’s accepted, based on your platform.
STU: What you’re saying is fair, there is more leeway in a podcast right now, but that’s not going to last long. For us, we won’t approach it differently from a topic standpoint, it really just allows us to have more time. Dan and I are very aware of how and what we talk about. We don’t set out to upset anyone because we’re always going for funny, but when you miss on funny it comes off as mean. It’s a fine line regardless of where you do the show.
BC: 20-year radio partnerships are really rare and you’re getting closer to that number with Dan. I’m sure you have an ego, you’re competitive, you don’t get to this level if you’re not. Have you had the desire to do something solo?
STU: This isn’t anything Dan doesn’t know, but I think about it all the time. Constantly. But I also know anything I do away from this will never be as good as this at its best. I’m fully aware how important Dan is to me, and Dan’s fully aware of how important I am to him. When you have chemistry in this business, latch on because it’s hard to come by. But to say I never think about what it would have been like 20 years ago to do my own show is crazy.
I don’t know if I’ll ever scratch that itch, but the beauty of digital is, I have my own podcast and there’s no one stopping me from flipping the mic on and doing five episodes a week.
“Stugotz is the secret sauce,” Sedano added. “Dan is brilliant. However, every great radio host needs a foil and Stugotz plays that role to perfection. Stu is also way more relatable. Hence, why he has his own personal fan club named, “The Stugotz Army.” Dan readily admits on-air that the show isn’t the same when any of the components are missing. Their personalities are a perfect combination of discerning versus perfunctory. Hands down, Stu is as important to the show as anyone or anything.”
BC: You might never be able to create something where the product is as good as the show you have right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something equally fulfilling. Chris Russo’s product is not as good as Mike and the Mad Dog, but having Mad Dog Radio might be more fulfilling.
STU: That’s a great point. There is some ego involved. With the Le Batard & Friends network, Mike Ryan told me STUpodity is the highest rated podcast. I got great satisfaction out of that.
Even that six-week hiatus Dan took last year, I knew what we were doing wasn’t as good as what me and Dan do, but we were getting to a place where it started to feel pretty good. And I think digitally, that was the biggest month we ever had, [Laughs] that selfishly felt great! I have enough confidence in myself and I’ve learned enough from Dan that I could create something pretty unique and special.
Even still, I don’t know how long it takes to get into the radio Hall of Fame, but f**k it if I’m not going to the Hall of Fame with Dan Le Batard. 17-18 years of being a pinata, I better be getting a Hall of Fame jacket.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future. Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years. Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.
“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.
The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million. ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.
The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers. Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.
“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use. With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”
My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN. Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts. Plus, he still believes in linear television.
“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”
Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word. We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.
“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”
The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.
The ESPN deal was signed in March. The Turner contract was made public in late April.
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before. We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”
Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance. Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.
We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league. Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city.
He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020. That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.
Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed. “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.
Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season. Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.
Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.
News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales
“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”
There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.
As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.
- Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money.
- We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”. Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency.
- We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.
- Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience. News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
- The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below.
- Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more!
A Happy Couple
- A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?
- If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him.
- It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives. Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other.