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CEO Kevin Jones Sees Blue Wire’s Future In Tik Tok Stars

“The younger generation isn’t growing up wanting to become a TV anchor or a radio host.”

Rob Taylor

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Chances are, if you’re reading this column, you’re entrenched in the world of sports and the sports media. That’s good.

But if you think that Tik Tok is only the sound that a clock makes, that’s bad. Wake up and smell this new(ish) social media phenomenon called Tik Tok that has 100 million users in the U.S., 730 million across the world. Wake up and smell this new platform that people are using on average for 89 minutes per day and is opened, according to Tik Tok research, 19 times per day on average.

Barrett Sports Media has learned that Kevin Jones, CEO of Blue Wire, a 3-year-old platform that is home to 160 podcasts and is expanding into other lanes such as video content, has signed official partnerships with 12 Tik Tok “influencers,” people that have substantial followings on their Tik Tok accounts. These influencers entertain their fans with sports-based content, such as Matt Sponhour (who breaks down the latest happenings in the NBA and NFL) and Grace Curatolo (a former collegiate lacrosse player who captures attention with her comedy and experiences as an athlete). But Blue Wire’s deals also involve plenty of Tik Tok influencers who don’t talk sports. That includes people like Michael Lacey, a person who spent nearly 21 years in prison who now uses his platform to make content related to social justice and the prison system. And people like Syd Erin, who has been referred to as Tik Tok’s “sweetheart,” a Penn State college student who makes relatable content based on her life and the typical scenarios that Gen Z’ers commonly find themselves in.

“I built Blue Wire on Twitter,” Jones told BSM in an exclusive interview. Jones would direct message Twitter influencers and inquire about their desire to partner with Blue Wire. “To me, Tik Tok is becoming the new Twitter for young, aspirational creators who throw themselves out there.”

Jones added: “We want to bring our same playbook of DMing creators (on Tik Tok), working with them on their content…working with people who are not just talking sports…huge animal lovers, chefs, comedians… The future of Blue Wire will be sports, but we want to have culture and comedy, and we’re really for the ‘creator economy.'”

Jones said the term “creator economy” is quite a buzz in the venture capital world. “Smart people, entrepreneurial people have brought their content to us, we’re making those people more money than they were before they came to Blue Wire and we’re helping them with marketing, social media assets, etc.,” Jones said.

Other Tik Tok influencers who are now part of the Blue Wire brand include: Adam Faris, who comments on various sports videos and memes that were posted on other platforms; Theo Ash, who provides analysis of pretty much every sector of the NFL; Blaiden Kirk, who also has a wealth of knowledge on the NFL (and NBA); David Brubaker, who makes satire videos about deleted movie scenes; Dean Sarama, who creates exciting trick basketball shots for others to attempt; Mamadou Ndiaye, who posts informational videos about animals and has a humorous way of describing each species and their characteristics; Veljko Mileusnic, who adds a comedic twist to videos based around the latest trends; and “Project Better,” an outlet hosted by Jade Richgruber that interviews young adults about various topics, while still being dedicated to its original mission of deterring teens away from vaping and smoking.

Tori Bookwalter, social media coordinator for Blue Wire, told BSM that the deals made with Tik Tok influencers include a 50/50 split on advertising revenue originated by Blue Wire; minimum two Tik Tok posts per week to be eligible for ads; and the influencers can keep all of the revenue they already make from their own sponsorships and continue to add new deals separate from Blue Wire.

Blue Wire, which has made its name through its wide array of podcast offerings and overall knowledge of the podcasting landscape, created a sports podcast specifically for three of its Tik Tok influencers. “Stay Hot” is the name of the podcast, hosted by Sponhour, Kirk and Ash. It’s just another way the partnership between Blue Wire and Tik Tok influencers benefits both parties.

‘I REALLY THOUGHT MY CAREER WAS OVER” — HOW IT ALL STARTED

Kevin Jones loves sports media. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been knee-deep in the ongoings of the Cleveland Browns, where he was a staff writer for the team’s website. Later, he crossed over to the West Coast, as a digital content manager and on-air host for the legendary KNBR in San Francisco. He also had a 49ers-based podcast while at KNBR, called, not surprisingly, the “Kevin Jones Podcast.” But after he and KNBR parted ways, he still kept podcasting and tweeting about the 49ers. “And I realized, ‘hey, there’s something here. This is the new way to talk to fans. You can just tweet and podcast, you don’t need to be a writer at an outlet and then be a radio host. We can set all this up ourselves now,'” Jones told BSM exclusively.

“The younger generation isn’t growing up wanting to become a TV anchor or a radio host,” Jones added. “I think there needs to be more platforms like “The Ringer,” like “Barstool,” and so Blue Wire was born to catch all these new creators in the ‘creator economy’ — whether that be a Twitter influencer, someone leaving TV or a Tik Tok-er or a sports writer or former athlete. At Blue Wire, we work with all different kinds of people in sports and now entertainment, culture and society. And now it’s pushing to Tik Tok because we really believe the platform is going to be around for a long time.”

Jones said for a 3-year-old startup, they’re able to pay the light bill comfortably, even if they keep the lights on all night. Maggie Lanter heads the sales team, “and we’ve done deals with Mountain Dew, Coors Light, Chevrolet, Doordash,” among others, Jones said. “Fans don’t watch TV at night anymore; they watch Netflix…Tv commercials are falling on deaf ears (besides live sports). We tell the advertisers, “this is good, rich content. People are listening to a podcast for 45 minutes at a time, once a week. That advertising spot is actually pretty valuable when you consider the cost…so a lot of brands are seeing the light of day.”

And the folks at WynnBET have invested in Blue Wire to the point that WynnBET has built a studio space for the company in Las Vegas, inside the famous Wynn Las Vegas casino and Encore at Wynn Las Vegas all-suite luxury hotel. WynnBET is the company’s foray into the online sports betting arena. Jones said Blue Wire signed a “seven-figure partnership” with WynnBET. “They get the hype about what we’re building and are really trying to amplify us.”

Jones is adamant that as the older get older and the young get into their prime, companies like his will dominate the media landscape. But he told BSM he never thought he would start a company in the first place. 

“I really thought my career was over. I was ready to hang up the cleats,” he told BSM, after his ending with KNBR didn’t end so well. He originally planned on Blue Wire as being “small, but it just starting rolling downhill and catching fire.”

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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