9 different markets.
12 different stations.
7 different companies.
Sports media is what I’ve spent the bulk of my life doing, and it’s been a passion project. I’ve had a plethora of bucket list experiences. However, the best part of my journey has been the opportunity to discover and mentor so many different talents. I’ve been fortunate to work with many unique individuals who are, to this day, enjoying success on national or major market stages.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at many conferences with both aspiring professionals, and seasoned veterans, of our industry. Once we’re done comparing thoughts on our fantasy football rosters or talking about how our favorite teams are doing…the discussion inevitably shifts to one question:
WHAT KIND OF TALENT DO YOU LOOK FOR?
Having spent almost my entire career as a Program Director/Content Manager, I’ve developed a set of criteria for the kind of individuals I’d want to hire. As the sports media landscape (and media landscape in general) has changed, my take on this question has morphed along with it.
So, for my first Barrett Sports Media piece, I thought I’d give everyone a snapshot of what my ideal talent would be like.
If I could create a sports-talk talent for 2021 that we could win with, they would have the following traits. Who knows, maybe this can be Elon Musk’s next pet project…right after he builds that Starbucks on Mars and pushes Dogecoin to $1.
THEY CAN TELL ME SOMETHING THAT I DON’T KNOW OR HAVEN’T HEARD
Go channel surfing on any given day and you’re likely to hear many of the same things being said over and over and over.
The world is SATURDATED with sports media. Now more than ever, standing out is at a premium.
I want to hire a person that tells me something I don’t know or haven’t heard someplace else.
Working in Chicago (as I do) the hot button topic this week was the Bears drafting of Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Everyone had a take on it. The people that stood out the most were the ones that gave me a reason for it being either good or bad that I hadn’t heard. Maybe it was a story from his playing days or a stat that I wasn’t aware of. Finding unique perspectives on the stories of the day are rare and difficult to come by.
THEY HAVE LED AND CONTINUE TO LEAD INTERESTING LIVES.
If your life’s work is your only hobby, you probably aren’t going to be ideal for me.
If you want to make it in this business, you must be an interesting person. People who have had many different life experiences (regardless of age) tend to be people that I look for. I want someone who is perpetually curious and has used that curiosity to explore what the world has to offer. These are the kind of people that draw an audience. You feel compelled to listen to them.
One of the first things I do when I interview a talent candidate is to find out just how interesting they are. It can be a complicated process.
The one thing you NEVER want to do, is put people on the spot by asking things like:
“So, tell me a bit about yourself.”
“What’s the best concert you ever went to?”
“Tell me about the most amazing experience you had in the business.”
Those types of things are rarely top-of-mind and candidates often struggle to give you answers.
I’ve learned to get people to open up to me by opening up to them first. For example, I started one job interview by casually telling the candidate about a new bourbon that I had sampled at a dinner the previous night. The candidate then went into how they had toured the Jack Daniel’s distillery once and how amazing the experience was. I then segued into telling them about my last trip to Lexington and we started comparing cities we had visited and our perspectives on each locale. In about fifteen minutes of casual conversation, I found out exactly what I wanted to know.
THEY CAN TALK THE TALK OF GAMBLING.
This criterion is one of the newest additions for me.
As we slog towards the inevitability of sports gambling being legal in all fifty states, the prerequisite for a successful sports-talk show host needs to include knowing the ins and outs of handicapping…at least at the basic level.
Yes, gambling is a vice, but it’s one that the ideal sports-talk talent should partake in responsibly. Why? Well, because every other sports fan is, and you must know your audience.
Over $21 billion was wagered in sports handicapping in the US in 2020. Yes, the same 2020 that saw the nation’s economy ravaged by the COVID induced recession. The advent of app-based gaming in states where it’s legal has made throwing pocket change on parlays as easy as tapping 1-2-3.
The new revenue stream of sports gambling is a lifeline to sports media outlets who saw advertising vanish into thin air over the last 2 years. Any talent I would hire would have to embrace it and help me make money.
THEY AREN’T AN ASSHOLE
Let’s face it. The media, as an industry, gave safe harbor to a lot of scumbags over the years.
Second, third, fourth, and FIFTH chances were given to people simply because they were good at their jobs.
No matter what corner of the building you worked in, if your ratings were good and/or you were bringing in money, you could essentially do whatever you wanted.
I remember one co-worker, who knew I was gay, once called me a ‘c***sucker’ in full earshot of other colleagues. As offended as I was, I knew that talking to my boss or HR about it would be a road to nowhere because of how much money this person was bringing into the building. So, I just laughed it off and walked away.
Those days, thankfully, are coming to an end. It’s just a shame that so many people had to endure what they did over the years.
I’ve always maintained that being great at what you do, in ANY walk of life, doesn’t give you license to be an asshole. Our industry is no exception. Anyone can have a bad day. Ask anyone that’s worked with me and they’ve probably seen a few of mine. That behavior can’t be the norm and the stress of being an on-air performer can no longer be used as an excuse.
No one wants to work with someone who lacks basic social skills. If you’re generally aloof or unpleasant to be around…there isn’t a place for you on my team, no matter how good you are.
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.
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