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Baby Boomers Have All The Money, Brands & Advertisers Have To Pay Attention

“So in the Boomers, sports leagues and networks are capturing an audience that is not only far wealthier, but far more enthusiastic about engaging with their products.”

Ryan Glasspiegel

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For a number of years, Mike Francesa has been emphasizing that Baby Boomers were a dramatically undervalued audience demographic for advertisers. His generation was working and living longer, and earning and spending far greater money than the 25-54 year old demo coveted by radio and 18-49 by TV. The New York radio legend recognized a vital paradigm shift sooner than just about everyone else in the business, while also probably being a little too dismissive of young professionals. 

“I understand there’s an obsession with youth in this country, but go to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and ask them how many Mercedes did you sell in the last month to people between the ages of 18 and 34?” Francesa mused at the Barrett Sports Media summit early last year. “And then ask them how many they sold to the people between the ages of 55 and 65.”

I’ll acknowledge that my initial reaction to when Francesa started making this point years ago was thinking “Ok Boomer” inside my own mind. I was over-sensitive to the fact that he was hand-waving my generation of Millennials like he would a WFAN caller from Yonkers who suggested a dumb trade. His opinion was transparently self-serving in regards to his own aging audience, and he underrated what habit-forming can mean to advertisers. Nonetheless, as I’ve thought about it more I’ve realized he’s completely right about the considerable spending power of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s in this country — and brands are also recognizing it and adapting. 

Buying for 3-4 Generations

Jill Albert is the CEO of Direct Results, a firm that buys ads across audio platforms including radio, podcasts, and streaming for brands like Omaha Steaks, USC, Home Advisor, Mathnasium and Chewy.com. She told Barrett Sports Media that 25-54 remains the “core” demographic target in audio, but that 55-75 year-olds are “kind of misunderstood and undervalued.” 

Lauren McHale, SVP and Director of Sales at the Katz Radio Group ad agency, agrees that 55+ is “often undervalued”. 

McHale said, “Advertisers target consumers via their lifestyle choices. Research shows that sports radio, play-by-play in particular, delivers an audience that is educated, employed, and has a higher income and higher net worth than the average adult.  Stats from the Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that adults 55+ have the highest net worth among all households, and account for the largest share (41%) of all consumer spending in the U.S.”

Albert made the point that Boomers, with accumulated wealth that dwarfs younger generations’, are in a position where in many cases they are spending not just on themselves but on care for their elderly parents, and potentially providing support for their children and grandchildren. 

Michael Mulvihill, EVP and Head of Strategy at Fox Sports, affirmed this point. “How many young people use a Netflix password that’s paid for by their parents? A lot,” he said. “How many parents use a Netflix account that’s paid for by their kid? Seems like not many. That seems to flow almost entirely in one direction.” 

So what we are seeing isn’t necessarily what Francesa lobbied for in prioritizing the boomers for ad targeting, but a gradual shift in which they’re being valued more than before but still not the priority. “At the end of the day we want as many ears on our platforms as we can get — whether it’s over-the-air or digital” said Mitch Rosen, Program Director of Audacy stations 670 The Score in Chicago and 105.7 The Fan in Milwaukee. “I still believe we live in a 25-54 world. I still think that’s the target.”

Contextualizing the Wealth

It’s one thing to just say that Boomers are rich and thus imply that the youth are poor, but when you look at the data it really smacks you in your face. According to the Federal Reserve, here is the wealth in trillions of dollars for the generations:

Silent & Earlier is defined as born before 1946, Baby Boomers were born from 1946 through 1964, GenX from 1965-1980, and Millennials from 1981-1996. The differential magnitude is stunning: Boomers have nearly twice as much wealth as GenX’ers and nearly 11 times what the Millennials do. 

Michael Mulvihill, the Fox Sports executive, pointed me to a study, circulated by the AARP, which said that if you separated out the economic contributions of Americans aged 50+, it would be the third largest economy in the world behind the United States and China. “So the third largest economy on Earth is completely ignored by the advertising industry,” Mulvhill said of those who cut off audience value of those older than 18-49. “That seems like it should be reconsidered.”

Those numbers, as gobsmacking as they are, still do not tell the full story. Part of the emphasis on reaching 18-49 or 25-54 was the presumption of upward mobility amongst generations of Americans. The Boomers, when they were the target demo, were the leading illustration of this belief. However, the ladder got pulled up behind them. 

This chart, shared recently by UNC Greensboro economist Gray Kimbrough, takes a few seconds to read, but when you figure it out it plainly spells out what Mike Francesa was stating: young professionals have not been accumulating wealth like their predecessors did:

How can you respond to that besides acknowledging that fundamental assumptions about buying power must be re-assessed?

What it Means for Sports

You can hardly call it a dire situation when the NFL is nearly doubling their media rights money in the next TV contract, but there were some sirens sounded when the median viewership of the Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl was at 50.6 years old, up from 46.6 in 2018 and 49.1 last year. To illustrate why we constantly hear about the old viewership for MLB and younger for NBA, the World Series was at 56.2 and the NBA Finals at 46.1. 

The Boomers are the generation most apt to sit down and watch all or most of a game, while the youngs are increasingly satisfied to nibble on highlights on their phones. Last week, Variety revealed a survey in which different generations were asked whether they preferred to watch full games or highlights. Here are the percentages that preferred watching highlights:

NFL

18-34: 48%
35-49: 20%

50+: 11%

NBA

18-34: 54%
35-49: 47%

50+: 40%

MLB

18-34: 58%
35-49: 48%

50+: 24%

So in the Boomers, sports leagues and networks are capturing an audience that is not only far wealthier, but far more enthusiastic about engaging with their products.

How do you harness that?

When I’ve talked about the undervaluation of older audiences, one response that I’ve gotten is that people’s preferences are set by the time they’re in their fifties and they become impervious to the influence of advertising. That is partially true, and explains why the youth is coveted. Look at what Dave Portnoy and Barstool have built. For two decades they have reached college-aged fans and kept them around. Portnoy isn’t content to let the audience age with them, and earlier this week explained the funnel system of doing drama-filled shows with Tik-Tok stars so that Barstool can capitalize on the young audience when they start making money:

Nonetheless, advertisers who cut off their targets at 49 or 54 are dismissing a remarkable amount of massive opportunities. 

“Buying habits may be set on consumer packaged products, so when they go to the grocery store things may be set from that perspective. You’re not going to sell them on a new brand of toothpaste,” said Jill Albert, the CEO of Direct Results. “But their world is opening up. They’re not spending as much time taking care of school-age children or working. So now they get to do whatever they want. Take travel: How many times do you talk to people who are 55 years old that are trying to figure out all the places they want to go? That’s a huge opportunity, especially after coming off a stretch where travel has been shut down and will be opening up.” 

Lauren McHale, of Katz Radio Group, says that they’ve discovered that Boomers express feeling excluded by marketers. “Using our proprietary research panel of U.S. consumers across the country, Katz surveyed older adults to gauge their opinions of brands not speaking to them,” she says. “Based on our research, the 55+ consumers are aware they’re being snubbed – they are also aware of their spending power. Our findings show that the 55+ audience want brands to speak to them and they take action when they hear an ad.”

There has been what I think is a misconception that mobile devices and streaming would cannibalize traditional media platforms when in many cases there are incremental strategic advantages. For example, for years Mitch Rosen was selling 670 The Score’s reach in car radios or perhaps in the office. Now, the app can reach you through your phone headphones or home speakers. For the first time ever this season, Cubs games will stream on their app. The audience from all of this can get aggregated and targeted accordingly. 

Another element, and this is a topic for a whole other piece, is addressable advertising. Facebook, Google, and Amazon have built an oligopoly in digital advertising with their sophisticated targeting technologies. This strategy is already percolating in audio and TV. Jill Albert said that Direct Results is already using attribution models and pixel tracking techniques across audio platforms — even including terrestrial radio. 

To borrow a conclusion phrase from Mike Francesa, the bottom line is that he was perhaps a little too dismissive of young professionals, but absolutely right that the Baby Boomers need to be a focal point in sports media marketing. This is an audience that has more wealth and the desire to spend it than the generations who came before it and the ones coming up behind. For the right industries, targeting them is quite advantageous. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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