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Merchandising Fandom: Sports Radio’s Untapped Revenue

More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

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Have you attended a BSM Summit? Be it in Chicago, LA, or New York, if the answer is yes, you have heard JB go on and on about merchandising. There’s a reason he talks about it so often. It is a revenue source that too few radio groups take advantage of.

Jason Barrett (@sportsradiopd) | Twitter

In recent years, we have seen iconic brands like 98.5 the Sports Hub do limited runs of t-shirts inspired by their talent and their shows. Recently, WFAN launched a full online store. More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

Maybe you need dominant names in the ratings in order to convince management to take the plunge with show and station themed products. This entire format though is built on the love people have for their favorite teams. Any brand can make money with merch inspired by iconic players and moments every fan can recognize.

Take SKOR North in Minneapolis. Phil Mackey, the director of content for the station, values creativity. His station may not have play-by-play rights to the Twins, but that didn’t stop him from rolling out a series of shirts in 2019 inspired by Eddie Rosario, who played in the outfield for the team at the time.

Rosario would say that he “hit bomba” whenever he hit a home run. So, Mackey and the SKOR North crew plastered the word “bomba” on a number of different shirts and hit the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. The Twins didn’t own a trademark on the phrase. That meant SKOR North could act quickly.

“The State Fair is a huge merchandise-moving event for all of our Hubbard MSP brands, including SKOR North, and it can be a great way to draw people to our broadcast booths,” Mackey told me.

He wouldn’t give me any hard numbers, but he said that embracing bombas and tying it so heavily to the way the station talked about the Twins did have a payoff.

SKOR North on Twitter: "Which shirt is your favorite?! Stop by our booth at  the #mnstatefair to grab one of these!… "

“The Bombasota buzz is hard to quantify, but the entirety of it all — the shirts, the hashtags and social messaging, the special videos, all led to record podcast numbers for our daily SKOR North Twins Show. You can only do so much to lure people to AM radio, so anytime we are able to create fun concepts like Bombasota and generate digital buzz, it acts as a gateway into the SKOR North brand.”

Mackey says the Bombas campaign isn’t the first time SKOR North has used fandom to generate revenue and it won’t be the last. Right now, selling hats and shirts is something the station only does at the Minnesota State Fair, but he hopes it won’t be that way forever.

“We do have some systems set up for online merch stores, but we’ve yet to truly go all-in on that front,” he told me in an email. “I’d love to in the future.”

What are the rules though when you are the flagship partner of the local team? Steve Griffin is the GM and President of 1010XL 92.5 FM in Jacksonville. The station is the flagship of the Jaguars. That team’s fans are primed to spend money right now. Between Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville football fans have never been more optimistic. Hell, plenty of people are convinced this is the beginning of Tim Tebow’s hall of fame tight end career too.

Can Steve and his team dive into the merchandising game without getting a thumbs up from the team?Even if they want to put out a t-shirt that uses no official logos or other trademarks, does the flagship relationship mean that there are tightropes that need to be walked?

“As long as there’s no perceived association between what we’re merchandising, our sponsor of that merchandising and an official Jaguars partnership, they have been great to us,” he told me. “If there is ever a question, we will pass it by their sales and marketing folks to be certain before moving forward.”

The station has taken advantage of the excitement to generate revenue. It hasn’t all been about selling tangible things fans can take home. Griffin and his staff have instead focused on longer advertising and marketing campaigns that include merchandising as just one element of the entire strategy.

“We’re wrapping up a 3-month station promotion/merchandising event centered around Welcome to Trevor Town!  It included a sponsored 13-episode TrevorCast podcast and a series of six live remote broadcasts of our show XL Prime Time at a sponsor location giving away 1000 Trevor Town headbands.”

Griffin’s station is live and local every weekday from 6 am until 10 pm. That means there are plenty of shows and personalities for listeners to connect with. Still, I wondered if it was smarter to forgo a merchandising campaign centered on the station and its staff for one focused on the Jags. After all, there are people that may have never turned the station on that would still buy a Trevor Town shirt.

1010 XL 92.5 FM tends to focus most of its merchandising on events. Griffin says he doesn’t really know how to project what a merchandising campaign centered on the station’s personalities could do.

“We’ve merchandised our hosts/shows on a limited basis, mostly Jaguars Today and Helmets & Heels, so it’s difficult to determine the bigger value until we do more host/show merchandising,” he says.

There are multiple approaches for generating a little revenue using fan passion. As every station and company around the country looks to increase its bottom line, no idea should be considered off limits. Just ask the right questions and make a plan. Don’t leave money on the table just because it isn’t something you have pursued before.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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