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P2s: The Secret To Ratings Growth You Need To Embrace

“They like sports, but maybe don’t love them. Maybe they do love sports, they just don’t make it the center of their lives the way many of our P1s are known to do. All they want when they are in the car or at their desk is an escape.”

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If I learned anything this year at the BSM Summit, it is that this industry is full of smart people. Sure, sports radio has to rethink some things in order to forge a path forward with younger listeners and we are going through some big changes in terms of how and where we serve our audience, but there were a lot more ideas than shoulder shrugs in New York last week.

There were two topics I heard discussed a lot. One was Nielsen ratings. They aren’t perfect obviously. There was plenty of talk about what they should reflect, what they do reflect, and how we get that extra meter.

The other was our core audience. “Super serving our P1s” is a buzz phrase across the industry. The format doesn’t matter. Everyone is trying to give their super fans a product they will stand on the street corner and evangelize.

Maybe now is the time to stop thinking so much about P1s. Does it make sense to expect ratings to grow if we keep playing to the same audience?

Do we pay enough attention to P2s? If a station wants to climb in the ratings, it doesn’t have to abandon the P1s it has spent so much time building. It just has to figure out how to get those P2s to come back one more time and stay for five more minutes. I asked programmers on both coasts how they think about their P2s and what their strategy is for serving them content.

Jeff Austin doesn’t see a need to change topics or even mix in elements of “guy talk” and other non-sports subjects. His hosts at 1080 The Fan in Portland are certainly allowed to, but Jeff is focused more on answering some basic questions about how they cover the biggest local and national games, teams, and players.

“Are we doing too much X’s and O’s talk? Not enough? Are our update anchors engaging in too much ‘inside baseball,’ like using first names-only in sports stories about athletes and coaches?” he says. “Our basic approach in Portland is to reflect the perspective of sports fans in our market, which means we have to be about more than X’s and O’s. I think it gives us a built-in advantage for recruiting P2s, who may be casual sports fans, and turning them into P1s. Sports may be the entry point, but we want to be a great listen, not just a great sports listen.”

Philadelphia is a sports crazy city. Chuck Damico even programs a station named for that passion – 97.5 The Fanatic. He told me that he has a very clear idea of who is P2s are. They are people that like the Eagles. They just aren’t going to lose sleep over a Jalen Hurts interception.

“Our P2’s are sports ‘fans’ not sports ‘fanatics,'” he told me after apologizing for the pun. “Their primary interests could be anything really – music, hobbies, time with friends and family, etc.  They’re not complicated, they’re regular, real people and they are the majority of the market.”

How do you appeal to regular people in a sports radio culture built by the most insane amongst us? Chuck says that no matter the topic, you have to cast a wide net.

“We have to be trusted, welcoming experts without being too narrow or alienating to anyone so that hopefully those casual fans choose to come back more often and for longer occasions.”

One thing that seems obvious, in terms of how we attract P2s, is to make sure they get what they are searching for when they come to us. Scott Shapiro of FOX Sports Radio talks to his talent about going “deeper not wider” with their topics. It’s his way of saying find more, unique angles on the biggest stories instead of trying to fill twelve segments with twelve unique stories.

Ironically, the goal of following this model is to widen your appeal rather than make the devotion of the fans you already have deeper.

Every time a P2 listener comes to your station, they are looking for entertainment. Sometimes it is just about what catches their ear. It can be a discussion of Calvin Ridley’s ridiculous suspension. It can be the new song from Doja Cat. They genuinely do not care. Other times, a P2 is coming to you on a mission. Russell Wilson is going to be traded to the Broncos and a listener in Seattle wants to know if this is the start of a full-on rebuild for the Seahawks or the Players Association rejects another proposal from the owners and a listener in Atlanta wants to know just how much longer he has to wait to see the Braves get their World Series rings.

Whatever the listener’s motivation, the second he or she sees what in their mind is “the sports station” on their tuner, they have an expectation. We better deliver. We can do that better with big stories and big names than something you were thinking about on the way in this morning.

Jeff told me that he doesn’t necessarily agree. When he is thinking about his P2s, he has two thoughts. First, how can I turn them into P1s and second, how can I get them to come back one more time than they usually do. The answer to both is to make them feel at home no matter what conversation they are hearing from their speakers.

“Our hosts are good at driving longer listening by sharing their everyday lives and their passion for sports and popular culture,” he says. “The connection they make through on-point topics and insight creates tune-in occasions. It gives you the best chance to recruit the listeners who will drive ratings and are more likely to consume your content across multiple platforms. They spread the word about your shows, show up at station events and interact with your advertisers. They become part of the club.”

Chuck Damico still serves as the Assistant PD of legendary rock station 93.3 WMMR in Philadelphia in addition to leading the Fanatic. He points to Preston and Steve, that station’s morning show. They have decades of success under their belt and he hopes his sports talk hosts can recognize why that is the case.

“There’s no magic secret to their success – they are genuinely likeable people, doing highly relatable content in a fun and entertaining way. There’s a little more to it than that, but the overall concept is simple.  And if you can do that enough, you can turn occasional listeners into dedicated fans.”

Our format’s P2s aren’t a mystery or some complex riddle to be solved. They like sports, but maybe don’t love them. Maybe they do love sports, they just don’t make it the center of their lives the way many of our P1s are known to do. All they want when they are in the car or at their desk is an escape.

Prioritize connection and entertainment and you will scratch that itch for them. In some cases, you’ll do it enough to turn them from a P1 into a P2. In others, you will give them reason to stay with you a little longer or to check in one more time. Either way, it expands your reach and just maybe grows your ratings.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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