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The 2024 BSM Summit is Coming To New York City

“The 2024 BSM Summit, will take place March 13-14, 2024 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City.”

Jason Barrett

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During today’s Barrett News Media Summit in Nashville, Barrett Media President Jason Barrett announced plans for the company’s next sports media conference. The 2024 BSM Summit, the Sports Media industry’s premiere annual conference for broadcasting professionals, is returning to New York City. The Summit will take place on Wednesday, March 13th and Thursday, March 14th, 2024, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 W. 55th Street, New York, NY. This will be the company’s sixth BSM Summit and the third time the popular destination event for sports broadcasters originates from the big apple.

Tickets to the 2024 BSM Summit in New York will go on sale on Monday, October 16, 2023, on the event website: https://bsmsummit.com/. The full lineup of speakers, panels, and special events will be announced later this year.

Prior all-star speakers at the BSM Summit have included industry executives Jimmy Pitaro of ESPN, Eric Shanks of FOX Sports, Meadowlark Media’s John Skipper, and Barstool Sports’ Erika Ayers Badan, popular on-air personalities Pat McAfee, Mina Kimes and Paul Finebaum of ESPN, Colin Cowherd, Joy Taylor, Jay Glazer, and Craig Carton of FOX Sports, Al Michaels of Amazon Prime Video, Jim Rome of CBS Sports, WWE’s Shawn Michaels, and Sports Radio icons Mike Francesa and Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, best known as ‘Mike and The Mad Dog’, plus Sports Radio’s sharpest programming minds including Spike Eskin of WFAN, Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket, FOX Sports Radio’s Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, Cumulus Media and Westwood One’s Bruce Gilbert, 670 The Score and BetQL’s Mitch Rosen, and many more.

Jason Barrett, President, Barrett Media, said: “What started as a small gathering in Chicago in 2018 has blossomed into one of sports media’s most fun, insightful, and professionally beneficial events. We pour our heart and soul into this show to help industry professionals stay in tune with where the industry is going, and to unite and celebrate folks who help make the Sports Media business one of the best, most passionate, and professionally important spaces in all of media.”

Barrett noted: “I’m excited to return to NYC and operate on the large stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, treating our attendees to the best-in-class speakers and presentations they’ve become accustomed to seeing and interacting with at our shows. Last year’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles delivered a homerun, and I’m eager to see if NYC can help us raise the bar again when we return to the Big Apple for a third time in March 2024.”

To stay up to date on speakers, tickets, sponsorship opportunities, and other event surprises, visit https://bsmsummit.com/.

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Cheers to 8 Years of Barrett Media, and a Look Ahead to 2024

“To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor..”

Jason Barrett

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Each September, I look forward to writing this column. Not because I need a pat on the back but because it signifies another year in business. When I launched this company in September 2015, I didn’t expect to cover every layer of sports and news media. I knew the radio business well, built a lot of relationships, and enjoyed writing and speaking my mind. I just thought it would be cool for sports radio folks to have a website focused on it. If it led to a consulting client or two, even better.

I wasn’t planning to hire website editors, writers, social media and newsletter directors or create annual conferences, a member directory and advertising packages. Fortunately, we did good work and it caught on with industry professionals. As interest grew and opportunities presented themselves, I was wise enough to seize them. It’s why we’re here today celebrating 8 years in business.

Creating a brand that people like, respect, learn from, and enjoy spending time with is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s even more special because we built this without corporate funding. When I entered the consulting and publishing space, I believed this could be my last job. I still feel that way today. This consumes my life M-F from 7am to 11pm. I’ll take a break to eat, talk to family or maybe watch a game or TV show but aside from that and a weekend timeout or vacation, I don’t shut off much. I wish I could at times but it’s how I’m wired. To run a successful business, you’ve got to be all-in and willing to sacrifice, and I do whatever it takes to keep us moving forward.

Growth also requires having a good staff, and supportive clients, advertising partners, and members. It’s easy to run websites with minimal content and low expectations but if the goal is to grow an audience and revenue, generate nationwide respect, and expand into new areas, then you’ve got to have support, a strong team, short and long-term vision, and an ability to consistently deliver. That means recruiting, investing, pitching, and knowing when to pivot.

During our 8 year run, we’ve produced larger monthly and annual traffic than some trade sites that I read and admire. We’ve also established a valuable industry event, and are about to make it two when we host our news summit next week. We’ve earned respect by breaking news, creating original content, helping partners, and refusing to value clicks over people. We may write things sometimes that folks don’t like or agree with. That comes with the territory. Just as long as we’re fair and accurate, I’ll manage the rest. I’m obviously biased but when it comes to sports and news media coverage, I’ll put our team up against anyone. For those who ask, ‘how can we help?’ The answer is simple, RT or share our content, advertise with BSM or BNM, retain us for consulting work or buy a membership or ticket to a summit.

I’ve always tried to be transparent with our readers and clients, so if I’m being honest, this year has been harder than others. The good news is that we’ve grown a lot. We’re busier than ever, and our reach and influence keeps rising. I absolutely love the clients I work with but with more work comes a need for more staff. With more staff comes increased conversations, and it isn’t always easy for me to find time for my crew when I’ve got to listen to and help stations, build conferences, sell sponsorships, and manage websites and newsletters. It’s why having good editors in place is important.

If all I had to do was help clients, the job would be easy. But I don’t just consult. I oversee our websites, newsletters, social media, events and 20+ people. It can be exhausting sometimes. Then there are the unexpected situations that arise. Case in point, having to navigate web hosting issues, social media platforms restricting reach, Google impacting BNM after it split off of BSM, restrictions on 1-2 writers, plus new hires not panning out, and veteran contributors signing off. It’s what you have to deal with when running a company.

On the positive side, the BNM and BSM writing teams continue to kick ass, Alex, Andy, Garrett and Demetri are working well together, and our first news/talk summit has been well received. Stephanie Eads has also gotten more involved on the sales end, and after the BNM Summit, she and I will be holding meetings with groups regarding our 2024 plans.

On that note, we reach a lot of people each day with our two brands. Many are high earners and key decision makers. Most of our partners benefit by advertising with BSM and BNM but there are some in marketing departments who haven’t invested in us nor taken the time to learn about us or respond to an introduction. The last thing I want to do is have to make a tough call one day like Joel Denver did earlier this year with All Access but breaking news, telling stories, running events, and helping partners grow their business takes time and resources. I’m comfortable sharing our story and results. I just hope more will take a closer look at working with us because I know we can help.

Looking ahead to 2024, I can confirm we will host another BSM and BNM Summit. We’ll reveal our host city and location for the 2024 BSM Summit on September 14th. Our plans for the 2024 BNM Summit will be made public in the months ahead. We’ll also release the BNM Top 20 of 2023 on December 11-15 and December 18. The BSM Top 20 of 2023 comes out February 5-9 and February 12th.

In addition, I’ll be posting a column tomorrow on BNM laying out the entire BNM Summit schedule. I’ll also be hiring an Executive Editor in Q4. More on that shortly.

As far as future goals are concerned, I’d like to eventually increase our newsletter distribution to AM and PM delivery, add a few new features writers and columnists, hire a second seller, introduce a new content series for BSM and BNM, and rework our social media strategy. I’m also planning to return to the podcast space next year although not with 5-6 programs per week.

At some point I’ve got to review our member directory and make it valuable for both sports and news/talk professionals. I’m also hoping to dig through our summit video content and eventually create a super ticket for folks to consume any session they want from the past 6 years of conferences. There’s a few more possibilities being explored too but I’m not ready to dive into those details yet. When I am, I’ll share it here on the website.

One situation I am comfortable addressing involves an important upcoming change. When September ends, Demetri Ravanos will be transitioning from FT editor of Barrett Sports Media to a weekly columnist and features writer for BSM. This is something that has been planned for months, and I know Demetri is excited about it.

Demetri joined BSM in August 2017, and has been a valuable member of our team. He’s been a great help to me and our staff, but if you ask him he’ll tell you that being an editor was never what he really wanted to do. He’s done it because he’s a team guy, loves the brand, enjoys sharing ideas with our writers, and likes staying busy but cleaning up columns, editing features, writing headlines and news stories, and listening to stations was not his dream gig. He’s going to be working with Joe Ovies, Joe Giglio, Lauren Brownlow and their Raleigh based podcasting network, which will give him a chance to host and produce close to home. You’ve likely seen some of his work already on social media.

Having spent 6 years together, I can’t say enough good things about Demetri. He’s worked hard for BSM, listened and learned when I educated him on stuff, and he’s become a great friend. He’s someone I’ve put a lot of trust in, and that’s not something I hand out to everyone. It has to be earned through time and consistent effort. We’ve talked a lot the past few years about this scenario being likely at some point, and when the topic came up in May, we both knew it was the right time to start the process. I’d write more about him if he were vacating BSM but you’ll still be able to read him on Monday and Wednesday. In fact, he’s launching a new series here tomorrow called Meet The Podcasters presented by Point to Point Marketing.

When we created this transition plan in May, I moved fast to get the word out that we’d be hiring an Executive Editor. I did so because I knew it’d take time to lure the right candidates, and between running a news/talk event on September 13-14, and Demetri stepping away two weeks later, I wanted to get ahead on it. I conducted 60+ interviews in May-August, and talked to many well respected, highly accomplished people, but as the summit drew closer, I started to realize that this hire was way too important to rush into. This is someone who I have to have complete trust and confidence in to run and grow our company’s digital brands. I didn’t like the idea of hiring someone and having limited time to train them, brainstorm big ideas, and develop a 2024 strategy due to needing to focus on building a big event.

So I told a few candidates that we’d resume discussions after the Summit, and if it means having to take longer to hire the right person, then so be it. I care about making the right hire, not a fast hire.

To make sure we don’t miss a beat, I’ll be diving in with Garrett Searight on October 2nd to make sure BSM and BNM’s content remains strong each day. We’re fortunate to have Garrett, Derek, Ryan, Jordan, Ricky and Eduardo contributing news stories and Alex handling our social media so it’ll be business as usual. My goal is to make a hire during the 4th quarter and set up the company for stronger success in 2024.

One thing I’ve learned during the editor interview process is that there are a lot of people who know our brands, love sports and news, and enjoy writing and broadcasting but don’t have the knowledge about sports radio or television beyond a few markets or shows. Many see the word ‘sports’ or ‘news’ and assume we’re going to write about those issues. I tell them all ‘we don’t do sports and news, we do sports media and news media‘. It’s important to know the difference. We’re more in line with a Sports Business Journal, Front Office Sports or All Access than we are ESPN, Yahoo Sports or Sports Illustrated.

What matters most here is a passion for writing, a nose for news, industry knowledge and relationships, and a desire to educate the industry. I live and breathe the broadcasting business and need others around me who share that same passion for the industry. I know there are talented writers and editors out there, so since this process isn’t resolved yet my email is open if you want to send a resume and cover letter. Be advised that this is a FT salaried, remote position.

There will always be obstacles to overcome, successes to celebrate, people coming and going, and new opportunities and difficulties to navigate when running a business. To be here after 8 years, still able to share my passion for sports and news broadcasting with you, and earn your time and attention is an honor. I’m grateful for your support and look forward to seeing where we are when I write this column next September and raise a glass to 9 years of excellence.

Thanks for taking the ride with us. Here’s to finishing 2023 strong, and making 2024 even better.

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The New York Times Sports Saga is About Dollars and Cents, Not a Lack of Interest in Coverage and Reading

“You can take issue with the vision and how the situation was managed but an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times doesn’t prioritize its importance.”

Jason Barrett

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NYT-Logo
Photo Credit: New York Times

Call me asleep at the wheel, out of touch or an aging broadcaster who has it all wrong, but I firmly believe that people still like to read. I know the popular thing is to talk up video, audio, streaming, etc., and I love all of those options, but I don’t buy that people don’t have time or interest in reading.

For many, especially in the media business, it’s how you start and end your day. I’ve heard people pronounce last rites for print for well over a decade, only to see social platforms and media outlets thrive off the written word, newsletters rapidly rise, and text become the main form of communicating. Clearly, written content still matters.

It’s ironic that I’m telling you this in print as you read it on the BSM website. In fact, more than nine million visitors have stopped by this site over the past three years, reinforcing why I remain convinced people value learning and enjoying a mental distraction.

As much as I love audio and video, there’s something therapeutic about reading a story. There are thousands of shows flooding the daily content cycle, many discussing the same topics and issues. Some could say the same exists in print, but there are countless examples of in-depth storytelling and reporting that can’t be duplicated on radio, TV or even in a podcast.

Think for a second about the majority of sports information that people react to each day. It comes in written form. If you’re an NBA fan, you rely on tweets from Woj and Shams. If you crave the NFL, Schefty and Rapoport keep you informed. Even those seeking sports media news get it from Marchand, McCarthy, Ourand, and BSM. Whether it’s delivered in a tweet or an online article, the bottom line, you’re reading it.

Though I remain bullish on the power of print, I’m not naive to the fact that the business has been challenged. If the revenue or costs don’t produce positive results for a company, they are going to do whatever is necessary to strengthen their business.

Recently, the New York Times chose to throw in the towel on its local sports department, relying instead on The Athletic for its local sports coverage needs. It was a decision undoubtedly influenced by dollars and cents. As expected, many in the media took exception.

In a statement issued to the Times’s newsroom, the newspaper’s executive editor, and deputy managing editor emphasized that the changes would result in more direct focus on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large. What they felt no longer needed attention was coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.

Interesting. This follows the Los Angeles Times recent decision to remove box scores, game stories, standings, and TV listings. These are things that sports fans have cared about and paid attention to for decades.

These two newspapers believe your interest in knowing the details of a game, and how your favorite team is performing compared to others, no longer matter. Either that’s the viewpoint or they’ve waved the white flag and determined people would rather go to ESPN, Yahoo and other online destination for that information. It’s easy to see why these decisions drew the ire of Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio and Jessica Benson on Grind City Media.

I don’t believe people who love sports don’t care about the things the Times is eliminating. Maybe interest in those items is lower when compared to news and in-depth storytelling but sports fans have always had interest in statistics, schedules, transactions, and standings. To suggest they don’t matter anymore is foolish.

You can debate if the newspaper’s vision for covering sports is right for the future or not but what made this situation worse is the way their executive team managed the situation with the sports staff.

It was reported that employees sent a letter to management the day prior, asking for clarity on the future of their department. Though the Times said in a letter to staff that no plans existed for layoffs, they ignored the fact that The Athletic had 20 staff members eliminated last month, and 20 more transferred to other roles. The transfer approach was also their solution for the sports department, hoping moving staffers to another department would help avoid the wrath and a bigger fight with their union.

But when news trickles in from the outside that plans are in the works to eliminate a department, and those skilled at covering sports are offered roles that remove them from what they enjoy doing, why would they stay? If someone took away your sports job and told you you’d continue being paid but now have to write obituaries, what would you do? Some will see this as creating a structure that encourages people to quit. That’s one way to eliminate costs without being on the hook for breaking a promise to not eliminate jobs.

Though I think the management team at the Times has royally screwed up their handling of this situation, let’s remove emotion for a second, and look at this from a business perspective.

The New York Times’s parent company started this process in January 2022 when it invested five hundred and fifty million dollars in The Athletic. Were they not supposed to prioritize the sports brand they purchased? Were they supposed to continue funding two operations with the same content focus even if it meant losing money?

One could argue that the newspaper could’ve moved its best sports writers to The Athletic, but to expect both to operate as is isn’t realistic. You can also criticize the decision to stick with The Athletic after the brand lost $7.8 million last quarter, $12.6 million in the second quarter last year, and $6.8 million in February and March of 2022 despite having 3.3 million subscribers. By the way, that information was shared by the New York Times in public filings.

Love it or hate it, when a company has resources tied up in two places for the same thing, you can rest assured they’re going to eliminate or reduce one of them. The changes don’t happen right away either, they usually come a year or two later.

This isn’t exclusive to the print industry. Look at what happened to the pro wrestling business when Vince McMahon acquired WCW from Turner. He didn’t run two companies long term. He kept who he wanted, dropped the others, and a lot of people in that business were left without work. It happens in radio too when a station eliminates local shows for national programming or companies take over a new market or entire organization. You may not love hearing executives talk about finding ‘synergies’ to operate more efficiently, but they’re not going to pay twice for something that requires one investment.

When cuts are made and a department is weakened, it’s hard to express enthusiasm. Why would one be optimistic about the Times’s ability to cover the world of sports when they have less of a presence, and are minimizing coverage of games, players, teams, and leagues? If you’re at the New York Daily News, New York Post or Newsday you’re using the moment to remind New Yorkers that you remain committed to local sports coverage with a locally focused staff.

It’s more than fair to question if this the Times is making a smart decision, but for anyone to suggest this confirms a lack of interest in reading and sports coverage is foolish. These decisions are always about one thing, and one thing only, money.

The bigger issue with print isn’t a lack of interest. It’s the cost to employ and retain a talented staff while grappling with the challenges of generating advertising and subscription revenue. Think the fact that the sports desk at the Times was unionized, and The Athletic was not might’ve mattered in this case? You’re nuts if you think it didn’t.

In May of this year, the New York Times missed estimates for quarterly revenue. That led to a 6% drop in their stock price at the time. The Times said they expected digital ad revenue to decline by low-to mid-single digits, which was confirmed when they revealed they were nearly 9% down in digital ad revenue for the first quarter, and off by 11 million dollars for total annual revenue.

Photo Credit Reuters

As a publisher myself, I know how hard it is. We are fortunate to have some excellent, loyal advertising partners on this website but truth be told, we don’t have enough of them. More months than most we spend more than we take in to run our websites, and newsletters. Consulting remains our top source for revenue, leaving me to ask many times if modifying our content approach is needed or if we’d be wiser running a business without an online focus.

We put a ton of time and effort into educating the industry. I take great pride covering brands and people, telling their stories, trying to help folks learn about each other and the daily happenings across the media landscape. We pump out 30-40 stories each day between our two websites, promote them across social media, and deliver them to more than 10,000 inboxes via our BSM 8@8 and BNM Rundown. And that’s just the content side.

We also spend countless hours creating packages, pursuing new business, and taking meetings to demonstrate our reach and value in order to gain advertising support. We build conferences across the country, and risk a lot financially to do them, hoping to earn enough to cover the expenses and get many of the right industry people in the room. But even that can be difficult. For every partner we gain, there are many who don’t come on board. Most who do have seen the benefits, but I understand that a weakened economy makes decision makers nervous.

That said, if this site disappeared tomorrow, many would be upset. We’ve earned trust, respect, and appreciation for the work we do from a lot of important people. But in every business, if the support isn’t there, the publisher, brand or company has to choose what is and isn’t vital to operating. Folks may not like change, but it’s simply about the math. If the dollars and cents don’t add up, you’ve got to adjust or you risk being broke or out of business.

That’s what I believe this decision at the New York Times is about. You can take issue with their vision and the way they managed the situation but understand that an investment in The Athletic makes no sense if the Times isn’t prepared to prioritize its importance. You can question if they should’ve purchased The Athletic in the first place, but once that move was made, it was only a matter of time until something this drastic occurred.

But those who flocked to social media to suggest this is proof of people not being interested in reading are wrong. Each time I hear nonsense uttered about print being dead, I think of how often the same has been said about radio and television. I think about the film industry, which relies on written scripts, and in many cases, published books to create box office hits. I think of Canada pulling its advertising support from Facebook and Instagram over parent company Meta’s decision to restrict news content being available to Canadians. I think of our own growth at BSM and BNM, which is a result of people consuming our written content either online, on social media or in newsletters.

Interest in reading, learning, and mentally escaping from the world for a few is as strong as ever. We live on social media apps and our phones because we want to read what others say, and join the conversation. It all reinforces the notion that consuming written content matters, whether it’s on a website, on social media, in a text, in a newspaper, newsletter or magazine.

The only questions anyone should be asking is what must digital/print brands do to attract stronger advertising dollars, how much investment must a company make to deliver quality journalism and a large audience, and how much consolidation awaits the media world in the near and distant future? We can scream from the mountaintops all day about the decline of journalism and rip the New York Times for decimating its local sports department, but if the dough don’t show, someone or something is going to go.

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ESPN Has Made It Clear, Radio Is Not a Priority

“What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided.”

Jason Barrett

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ESPN Radio

This is not a column I wanted to write. For years, I’ve expressed how much better the industry is when ESPN Radio is healthy. I’ve maintained friendships at the network, the company has supported our BSM Summit, and I reflect fondly on the few years I spent working there earlier in my career. It was a special place to work and I learned a lot about becoming a pro in Bristol.

But this ESPN Radio is not the one that I and many others were fortunate to be a part of under Bruce Gilbert. It is not the one that Traug Keller, Scott Masteller, and other radio-first believers oversaw. This current version lacks radio instincts, focus, passion, and care. That may be an opinion that folks in Bristol, New York, and Los Angeles offices don’t want to hear but the decisions made in recent years make it difficult to see it any other way.

ESPN Radio used to obsess over serving the sports fan, its radio affiliates, and network advertising partners. But serving the company’s television and digital interests is what matters most now. Relationships with radio operators have changed, interest in operating local markets has decreased, and though I’m sure some will defend the network’s interest in satisfying advertising partners, it’s hard to do that a day after the entire national audio sales team was gutted. Thankfully Good Karma Brands is passionate about the audio business and helping their sales efforts. If they weren’t involved, who would be leading the charge in Bristol?

I didn’t start this week planning to drop a truth bomb but as I sat here on Tuesday and fielded text after text and call after call, I couldn’t help but be disappointed and upset. This network has been a staple of the industry for over thirty years. Yet in less than ten it feels they’re closer to turning off the lights than celebrating success. That should not happen when you have the partnerships, history, and talent that ESPN has.

What saddens me is that it didn’t have to reach this point. ESPN Radio had chances to sell in the past to outside parties. They declined. Folks inside of Disney felt the network was worth more. Well, how’s that looking now? If the company wasn’t going to commit to doing it the right way, and was just going to cut its way to the bottom, why stand in the way of others who’d pay to save it? It’s eerily similar to what just happened with Buzzfeed News. The company thought it was better than it was, and within a few years, the whole thing crumbled.

If this were the first time the network looked bad, I’d go easier on them. I understand the business, and sometimes brands or companies make mistakes or have to make difficult choices. It’s why I didn’t bury the network when Mike and Mike ended. Though I knew replacing their stability in mornings would be tough, I felt the network had earned enough clout over the prior years to be given the benefit of the doubt with a new show/lineup. I also applauded the company for replacing Zubin with Max, defended paying Stephen A. Smith top dollar, and supported GetUp! when it was popular to predict the show’s funeral.

But how can leadership in Bristol expect radio operators to trust their decision making at this point? I’ve talked to network executives privately and publicly about these issues for years, and have been told repeatedly that the radio business matters to them and becoming more consistent was a priority. At some point though the actions need to match the words. Unfortunately the only consistency taking place is change, and it often isn’t for the better.

I’ve lost count of the phone calls, texts, emails and direct messages I’ve fielded from PDs, executives, market managers, and ad agency professionals who’ve asked ‘should I be doing business with this network? Can you help me rebrand and redesign my radio station without ESPN Radio?‘ Yesterday alone I took five calls including from two who have expiring deals coming up. Think they’re in a rush to extend a partnership given what’s going on?

If you turn back the clock, some will say that things began to go in the wrong direction when Bruce Gilbert and Dan Patrick left. Though those were big losses, there was still a lot of confidence across the industry in ESPN Radio after they left. The early signs of issues at the network really started in 2014. That’s when Scott Masteller and Scott Shapiro departed. Masteller went on to program WBAL in Baltimore, and Shapiro teamed up with Don Martin to strengthen FOX Sports Radio.

Fast forward to 2020, and the heart and soul of the network, Traug Keller retired. Traug had more in the tank when he signed off, and when I talked to him prior to his exit, he denied being forced out or having concerns about the future direction of the network. Those who know Traug, know that’s he’s a class act and not one to air dirty laundry. But I also know he’s smart. As I look back now, I can’t help but wonder if he knew the ship was headed for an iceberg. I have no doubt that the network would be in better shape today if he were still there.

After Traug’s exit, a year later, Tim McCarthy was let go in New York. The network even cut ties with longtime voice talents Jim and Dawn Cutler, though they stayed on the company’s top stations in NY and LA.

Though I hated to see all of them go because they were good at their jobs and valuable to the network, the one that made a little more sense was Tim’s exit because that had more to do with Good Karma taking over in New York. Tim has since landed with the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and Vinny DiMarco is now leading 98.7 ESPN NY, and I’m a fan of both men.

But now here we are in 2023, and once again, the folks being shown the door are the people who dedicated their lives to radio. Among the casualties, Scott McCarthy, the network’s SVP of Audio, Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio, Louise Cornetta, Digital Audio Program Director, and two good local sports radio programmers, Ryan Hurley at 98.7 ESPN NY, and Amanda Brown at ESPN LA 710. All of them good, talented people with track records of success in the format. I struggle to explain how ESPN Radio is better today without them.

By the way, I haven’t even touched the talent department yet. But let’s go there next.

In less than eight years, ESPN Radio’s morning show has featured Mike & Mike, Golic & Wingo (Mike Golic Jr. and Jason Fitz were added as contributing voices), Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin, and Keyshawn, JWill and Max. Middays have included Colin Cowherd, Dan Le Batard and Stugotz, Scott Van Pelt, Ryen Russillo, Danny Kanell, Will Cain, Mike Greenberg, Jason Fitz, Stephen A. Smith, Bart & Hahn, and Fitz and Harry Douglas. Afternoons have been a combination of Le Batard and Stugotz, Bomani Jones, Jalen & Jacoby, Golic Jr. & Chiney, Canty & Golic Jr. & Canty and Carlin. I could run down the changes at night too, but you get the picture.

As a former programmer and current consultant, I know that radio is a relationship listen and investment. You can’t build an audience and attract sponsor support for talent and shows if the product constantly changes. Most PDs or executives who make this many changes during a short period of time, usually aren’t around very long. Yet ESPN has allowed this to continue, which leaves me to question how much they value their radio network.

Look, I’m sure this is a tough week for those in management at ESPN. Having to tell folks they’re not being retained and watch friends say goodbye is a crummy part of the job. I’m sure some have even fought to try and avoid this bloodbath. But when the news comes down from up above that 7,000 jobs are being eliminated, it’s not a question of whether or not people are talented and valuable, it’s simply about the bottom line. I feel for the folks at ESPN who have to deliver the bad news this week but also for those who are staying and now have limited support around them to make a difference.

By decimating the radio department there are now bigger questions to be answered by Jimmy, Burke, Dave, Norby and the rest of the management team. How much does ESPN value the radio business and the stations they’re in business with? If most of the people who’ve built relationships with local stations are gone, talented programmers are being ousted, talent changes happen far too frequently, and the company becomes less involved in local markets, why is anyone to believe this space matters to ESPN? What exactly are stations gaining from partnerships besides the use of four letters and the opportunity to air play by play events?

The network expects these stations to provide them with inventory, rights fees, branding, promotion, and clearance of certain programs so isn’t it fair of stations to have expectations of the network too? Don’t radio network partners deserve consistent quality programming, relationships with managers who prioritize audio, and less negative PR?

Most who I talk to about this situation believe the network’s glory days are gone. That’s fine. Just because this isn’t the ESPN Radio of 2005 doesn’t mean it can’t be great. The product exists now to primarily serve mid to small market operators who can’t afford local content, major market stations who don’t want to spend on evening and overnight shows, and company owned stations that can be utilized to promote the company’s digital and television content. ESPN does gain value for their radio shows on TV and podcast platforms, but those benefit the company much more than their radio partners.

The general feeling in industry circles is that FOX Sports Radio now delivers the best national radio product, CBS Sports Radio has better consistency but similar east coast content issues, and others don’t have strong enough brand recognition or content to justify a change. If sports betting continues to gain mainstream acceptance and bring cash into the marketplace, that could help outlets like VSiN, BetQL, and SportsGrid gain greater traction. If Outkick gets more aggressive with offering content to local markets, especially in the south and Midwest, that could be another interesting option.

The bigger question is whether there’s enough audience, revenue, and excitement for national content in today’s sports radio space. If most major markets are focused on local, is there enough out there in rural America to keep networks excited?

I do know that just ten years ago CBS Radio entered the space because they saw value in it. NBC Sports Radio leaped in too. FOX Sports Radio went all-in for Colin Cowherd, and ESPN Radio was healthy. Even SiriusXM continues to expand its national offerings, and three sports betting networks saw value in pursuing national distribution. It’s hard to convince me that there isn’t financial upside for national sports radio brands in today’s media environment. It may not be a big ratings play but from a business standpoint there is value.

What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided. Instead, brands have been damaged, relationships changed, jobs lost, and questions raised about future viability.

If the world’s leading sports operator values radio, they’ll prioritize restoring confidence across the industry. A good start would be putting people in place who champion radio’s future, and make decisions that best serve the radio brands carrying their product. If they can’t do that, then maybe it’s time to step aside, and let someone else try. I know a few groups who’d be happy to take a shot at restoring the network’s pride.

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