Ivy Savoy-Smith has been leading Audacy’s Washington, DC cluster since December 2019. That doesn’t mean she is new to the seven-station cluster by any means. The Maryland native has spent virtually her whole life in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) and the majority of her entire career inside the same building.
Being a local is important in the nation’s capitol. It means something different to the people that grew up there than it does to those who relocate there to work in government, defense or the lobbyist industry. If you’re a transplant, DC is built on politics. If you grew up inside the Beltway though, you know shutting out politics is important to maintaining your sanity.
A big part of the success of 106.7 The Fan has been due to the station’s ability to do just that – shut out politics. Ivy told me that it’s a big part of what’s helped the station remain strong when competing for advertising dollars against powerhouse news/talkers like WTOP and WMAL. As strong as The Fan has been, it’s no longer the lone brand inside Audacy DC headquarters. 2020 ended with Audacy adding another weapon to its sports radio arsenal when the company struck a deal with Radio One to acquire Team 980. With two familiar local brands operating under one roof in a city that loves sports and isn’t afraid to spend to be associated with it, Ivy and her team like their chances, even if politics occasionally cause a little chaos.
Demetri Ravanos: You were born and raised in the DMV-area, right outside of DC. I think for those of us from the outside, it’s hard to understand what that is like, because politics is what keeps the town ticking to a certain extent. And because of that, it becomes part of people’s everyday life and everyday conversation because everybody knows somebody that works in that field. With that being the case, how important is it that your sports stations be a pure escape from those conversations? I would imagine that is a real selling point, not only for listeners, but also talking to advertisers too.
Ivy Savoy-Smith: Absolutely it is. Our sports stations are just that. They are an escape from everything. We’re here to engage our listeners with great conversation about what’s going on, to have unbiased content that we’re talking about in the sports world, and to give them an opportunity to then engage with our talent over their thoughts and opinions. Obviously, we dive in sometimes when sports transcends, into other things. You have some athletes that maybe doing something in the music world or in the political world, so we will touch on it a bit, but at the end of the day, we are an escape for people. We want you to come to 106.7 The Fan or The Team 980 to listen and hear great content about your favorite and even your not-so-favorite teams here in the in the DMV.
DR: With it being such a transient area, I would imagine that there are plenty of the hometown teams that some of your listeners hate as well.
ISS: Exactly! I mean that is the awesome thing about sports. We have fans all over for the Junkies. I can’t tell you how many listeners that we have for the Sports Junkies who may have left the DMV and don’t live here anymore, but they have that option of listening to the station and still feeling like they’re right here. It’s just a great opportunity. People can still listen to their favorite sports teams wherever they live with streaming and with so many options that we have that are available now for people that weren’t available years ago.
DR: Whether it’s you or people at various levels on your sales staff, when you’re talking to potential clients, WTOP is the highest billing station in America. It’s right there in your backyard. WMAL is also a legendary news/talk station that is very strong. How do you approach local businesses spending money on those stations and hammer home the idea that it benefits them to buy sports on The Fan or Team 980 in addition to News Talk?
ISS: We’re just efficient and we can show you that. We can show you by the qualitative of our listeners. We can show you the research and I can show you who my listeners are, where they live, how much money they make, how smart they are, and what types of jobs they have. Our time spent listening with our sports stations is high. So again, it’s the quality of the listener and you have them engaged. That also goes a long way with a client’s commercial messaging on our stations. We have affluent listeners. Obviously they’re male-dominant stations that we have right there at that median age of the 48 or 49 year old man, who has been working, who has a disposable income.
So we’re able to deliver that more well-rounded buy than, I would say our competitors can. When you think about a TOP or an MAL, and not to take anything away from those two stations. They’re two good stations for news content, but they’re older-skewing stations. Our median age of who were reaching has disposable income and are spending and are engaged, versus some of our competition. They’re on the older end.
Let’s talk about “qualified.” When I’m talking to clients about that, it’s like, “I’m giving you qualified leads. Who’s going to come into your business? Who has more propensity to purchase than someone who isn’t? Who is set in their way and doesn’t need to purchase your product? Who is already comfortable? Who already has these things? Or do you want the person who is going to buy, is looking to buy, is thinking about buying, and has the money to purchase?” We make sure that we’re having that conversation with each and every client that we’re talking to. It’s a different conversation every time based on, obviously, the client in the category. But yes, we are a viable talk station that has listeners who engage, who listen longer, who have the income to come into your locations, and who are in our key demographics. We’re right here to compete with those other stations, and we do a pretty good job of it – and more efficiently I’ll say.
DR: You used the phrase “different conversations” and that feels like a good way to dive into the city’s two biggest sports radio brands now being inside the same building. Your group added Team 980 and the reconfigured lineup at the moment very much has its own identity. It’s not treated like an afterthought. I do wonder what the long term play is for the station or if you even have thought that far ahead yet. The Fan is such a powerhouse in the sports format, at some point I wonder if it just makes more sense to quit splitting the focus and devote all the resources to the top bread winner.
ISS: Absolutely not. We are committed to Team 980 and we feel like it is a great complement to The Fan. Yes, The Fan is our powerhouse and we take nothing away from that, but The Team is also a viable radio station that is a heritage brand and it has a very loyal base of listeners. We’ve made some changes because we want it to evolve with the marketplace right now and with our listener’s demands.
We want The Team to be a complement to The Fan as a sports station, not a one dimensional station. The demographics are similar, but yet they are different in some key ways. The team has a higher comp of African-Americans. The station does very well in Prince Georges County, an area that is very affluent with African-American males. The Fan does very well in Fairfax County with their key demographics. The station’s mirror each other in the right way. You’re getting all men with both stations as opposed to one brand reaching one type of man and the other station reaching another type of man. By having them both, we’re able to deliver the total demographic with 106.7 the Fan and Team 980.
I believe they’re efficient together and it’s a well-rounded buy. All of the games we carry, they’re going to transcend. So even though one station may carry it, we’re still going to talk about it on the other station. That’s what we’re doing with The Team that hasn’t been done. We’re giving Washingtonians and the DMV options and opportunities to listen to both stations. They’re going to get something different from both stations that we believe they’re going to enjoy.
DR: Is that something that you and Chris Kinard had to talk about with candidates, be it for the hosting roles or producing roles? Did you have to make it crystal clear that Team 980 is important to Audacy because it serves a purpose that The Fan can’t or accomplishes a certain goal that The Fan can’t in order to assuage any fears they may have because it’s an AM signal versus an FM signal and it’s not going to be treated the same way in the building?
ISS: Chris and I’ve known each other for 20 years. He’s been with the company as long as I have. So immediately we knew that we were going to make a few tweaks with the station. Overall, 980 is a heritage radio station. It is a brand that has done very, very well in the marketplace. We just wanted to continue that and also enhance it. But immediately we made sure that it was one team, because when you’ve been on opposite sides and you’ve been competing for years, obviously it’s going to be different that day when you make the announcement that your number one competitor is now in the building. So we wanted to make sure, with both teams, to be as transparent as possible. It is one team now. You both bring valuable assets to the table. It does not have to be one or the other. If we do this right, we complement each other.
So the same conversation that we had with them internally is the same conversation I had with the buying community externally, because it is the same conversation. They complement each other. Does it have to be one or the other? It’s worked really well. I will tell you that I am proud of them. They have worked well together and we do a lot together with them. If The Fan hears of one thing, we immediately let The Team know and vice versa. And that’s because everyone knows their strengths. And when everyone knows their strengths and their value and you’re transparent, I think it goes a long way. That’s the difference maker.
DR: We did a story not too long ago at the site about the uniqueness of 980’s lineup with Travis Thomas and Reese Waters airing back to back. I looked this up to confirm. It is the only station in America where you have solo hosts, both African-American, neither are former athletes, airing back to back anywhere in the country. Was that a conscious choice in terms of the positioning? Like you said, 980 has historically performed better with the African-American community. Or was it just a matter of this is where these two sort of fit in the overall lineup and by happy accident, we stumbled on something unique to sports radio?
ISS: I wish I could take credit for that, but that is not the case. I have to give all credit to Chris Kinard, because he was the one who spearheaded this lineup and was adamant about Travis. We worked with Travis before and thought that he was a great talent and when it made sense we we’re going to put him somewhere. When 980 came up, it was just the perfect time. Reese, the same thing. We’ve worked with Reese Waters for years on different things. Chris has wanted him for some time, even when Reese was at ESPN. So Chris knew a lot of their strengths and the different things that they bring to the table. And he liked that. So those were really the reasons it worked out this way. I mean, it took a little creativity to rework the slots. It just so happened with the timing that when everything came about with Team, it was like, “OK, now we know where we can put these guys and bring them into the Audacy family.”
DR: Speaking of Chris Kinard, he has spent his entire career with the company. You mentioned the two of you have worked together for a long time. What have you seen change in him as he has ascended up the ladder from starting out as a producer to now being considered one of the format’s very best programmers anywhere in the country?
ISS: Oh, he definitely is! As I have evolved at the station, we’ve kind of evolved together. He also handles operations for the entire cluster. Chris is a creative genius, but he will also will get in the trenches with you. His guys respect him because he will work with them and he is very transparent. He does the work and gets in front of things.
I will say from a market manager’s standpoint, he is the best. If he comes to me with an issue, he already has an answer for it. He doesn’t walk into the office and say “we’ve got this problem. What are we going to do, Ivy?”. It’s, “hey, we have this problem, Ivy. And I think I have the answer to the problem,” and that’s something that you don’t get all the time. He’s a team player and he listens, and that’s critical.
Chris is not afraid to listen to what other brand managers and PDs are doing across the country at their sports stations. When he sees that they’re doing something great, he’ll reach out and say, “Hey Ivy, I just saw in Philly, they’re doing this, maybe it’s something we can tweak for DC”. He’s always looking and thinking about what else can he do next.
It goes back to Travis and the Reese. He’s always looking at that bench too and thinking, “who are tomorrow’s up and coming star talents? Who’s going to bring that fresh new energy to the team and the talent that we need?” So, for instance, when all of this happened with Team 980, some of the things that we needed to do were already in his head. To me, Chris is the best in the business.
DR: You mentioned before that you’ve been in the building together for a long time. I would imagine that both of you sort of shared major life moments with one another. But now that you are his boss, was there any sort of difficulty in the transition of the relationship? You know, we have this deep familiarity, we’re friends and peers, but now it’s become technically a boss/employee situation. How does the relationship make it easier to navigate thru that?
ISS: I can’t speak for Chris, but it may be easier for me. There’s a confidence at this level of knowing that I have someone that I can trust. I know his work ethic. I know he cares about what he does. He cares about his work. More importantly, he cares about his staff and he will run through a wall for them. I love that he is that way.
Coming into this role and knowing that I had him as my brand manager over The Fan at the time, and since then promoted him to operations manager. Then of course, we acquired The Team, and I knew it’d work because again, I trust him. I know that I don’t have to worry about anything with Chris.
So the transition has worked fine for us. We sat down and went over how does this role look for me, what are my expectations over what he’s doing? There really wasn’t much to change, but obviously we had a conversation and our relationship changed a little bit. But that’s okay, because guess what, I told him “you’ve been doing a good job even before I sat in this seat. So nothing’s really changing for you. You’re going to continue to do what you’re doing. And if anything, I hope me being in this position just empowers you to do more because, I support you and I have your back.
DR: Audacy has certainly done a very good job of making sure that women are in charge of buildings across the entire landscape. From the smallest markets to the biggest, the company seems to have a real focus on putting women in positions of leadership. Being a black woman in that position, unfortunately, still is kind of a rare thing though. I wonder if that makes you willing and eager to be a mentor for the next generation of black women that want to reach the same spot or if it feels more important to advocate for changing minds and addressing biases that may exist at the top.
ISS: I think it’s both. I would love to have more black women with a seat at the table. I would love more opportunity for that. I mentor women whenever I get a chance. I’m in a couple of women in sales advisory groups and councils where I mentor women as a whole and from all backgrounds. So I’m always excited to mentor and elevate women in any capacity that they want to be in, especially in sales, because it has always been a male dominated industry, not just radio, but just sales in general as well. So that’s important.
I also want to make sure that we are recruiting and networking at historically black colleges and universities. If we’re trying to reach women of color, we’ve got to go where they are, right? I think we have done that in the office with Audacy. We do have a fellowship program that we have partnered with Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta. Part of that is so that we are having conversations and we’re inviting people who are interested in sales into our program so that we can mentor them and to help bring them into the industry because we do want that.
It is very critical and very important because we have to have different voices and different opinions that bring about different conversations. And you have to have an open mind and hear things differently. That’s how you help to create change.
DR: I do want to ask you about the departure of Chad Dukes. I know that had to be a tough situation to manage. You were pretty early in your tenure as market manager. It’s a tough call to make and due to the nature of the offense, you had to show some discretion. You didn’t want to damage anything regarding The Fan as a brand. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the conversations that you had with advertisers after you made that call. I’m sure that some get used to being in business with a particular host and when he’s gone and you can’t give all the answers they’re looking for, it leaves questions.
ISS: Well, that was a very tough decision early on in my career. I mean, I’ve known Chad for years. I’ve known Chad since he started. No decision like that is easy, okay? Not with anyone and especially not one like that, but it was necessary and it’s a part of what we have to do as managers. We have no tolerance with that. Our company doesn’t.
Having that conversation with clients actually wasn’t as difficult because most understand our policy. They have it as well in their workplace. It was just unfortunate because of the climate and because it’s happened in most companies, and it’s happened one too many times. Unfortunately, the familiarity with it was something that they had. So it wasn’t as tough a conversation as you might think with most clients. If anything, I got quite a few clients who reached out to me to say sorry, which there was no need for a client to do that. But I had quite a few clients who actually did.
DR: What about inside the building? Your team had to be looking for answers about their colleague, someone who was with them for a long time. How did you handle it with them?
ISS : This is very personal for a lot of people in our building. I’m very transparent. Chad worked with us for quite a while. Over 12 years. Chad had a lot of friends in the building and still does, and rightfully so. Those are his relationships, and when you work with someone every day, you form friendships and bonds.
It wasn’t something that I looked forward to doing, but again, it was necessary to have those conversations. Anyone who felt that they needed a separate conversation about it, my door was open so that we could talk about it. I will say that did not happen. I do think conversation is the first step to moving forward if you’re feeling any kind of way. That was what I asked of the staff. If you have any issues, please feel free to reach out to me separately and we will have a separate conversation.
DR: I think it’s really interesting with 980 in the building now, because you have The Fan, which is a really strong brand. 980 is a heritage station that you guys have inherited and are trying to reinvent, and it is now on strong footing. If those two stations stayed what they were from now until the end of our existence, nobody would say boo about it because they are both successful. But that’s not our business. Right? So how do you figure out what the next evolution is in terms of overall health of a station? I mean business, programming, branding, everything. And for each one, how do you get there?
ISS: With the Fan, I think we continue to do what we’re doing. We provide the best sports content, the best interviews, the best relationships that we have for our listeners, the best engagement, the best talent that continues to give it 110 percent. I think we continue to do that. We continue to have both stations cross promote each other and to help each other out across the table and listen to what our listeners want. Give our listeners what they want.
They want information. They want content. They want breaking news. They want it first with us because they know that we’re going to give it to them. Our personalities are going to talk about it without any bias. We’re going to say exactly what’s going on in the sports world and with whomever did what. And I think that’s what we’ll continue to do. We just have to stick to that and, continue being first with news and information from the sports world and staying connected to our listeners.
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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