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Social Studies: JuJu Gotti, Meadowlark Media

“It’s basically my honor to get this message out. When Dan says something, I’m like, people gotta hear that.”

Alex Reynolds

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Social Studies feature with JuJu Gotti

Today’s edition of Social Studies features a mainstay of the Dan Le Batard universe, JuJu Gotti. While JuJu’s responsibilities at Meadowlark Media have evolved – hosting Wake and Take, Sunday Night Live and launching branded merchandise – his bread and butter remains on the social media side. JuJu is charged with Tweeting from the main Le Batard Show which includes pulling clips from the show and handling the fan-favorite Twitter polls.

When he started with the show in 2020 JuJu was a one-man department on social. He also isn’t based in South Florida like much of the Le Batard crew. Couple that with the non-stop nature of social media and JuJu found himself under a lot of pressure early on. And that’s where the heart of our conversation pivoted to. How he learned to lean on other people on the social team, how his camaraderie with talent blossomed and the responsibility he feels to portray the Meadowlark talent – people he now considers close friends – in the best possible light on social.

Enjoy this conversation with JuJu Gotti of Meadowlark Media. Be advised this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. For the full interview visit the Barrett Sports Media YouTube page.

Alex Reynolds: “Put it on the poll Juju @LebatardShow” is something that is said about 20 times an episode. Put me in that place when Dan is saying that on the show, what you’re doing and why polls are so important for the show.

JuJu Gotti: Yeah, I’m usually pooping myself because it always jars me at attention. Because it’s while he’s doing the show. I’m trying to get clips from a certain part of the show. So I have one headphone on this, another headphone on this. So that always snaps me out of what I’m doing.

When I was a listener of the show, and not working with these people, the polls would kind of be like a mystery. What could that possibly be about? Why would that question ever be asked today?

But now I understand it is important because those polls have so much engagement, like thousands and thousands of people vote on simple things.

AR: Take me through an average day in your world.

JG: I wake up around 6:45 or so and put a little mental oil on myself. When I say mental oil I mean I do my meditation, do the things that remind me to be present. Then around 8:00 we have our production meeting with the show where all the ideas are bouncing. Mike gives us the rundown and we pitch our ideas to Mike. We go live at 9:00. We go live and I start listening for clips and posts. Around 10 in the morning we get our first break and we’re cutting more clips. It’s just a clip-a-thon pretty much and you just have fun. You see Dan in a ridiculous outfit and laugh at him, you make fun of him. You see somebody in wack shoes we talk about them and then you keep cutting clips.

AR: For you, what is a good clip for social?

JG: Anything that catches my eye and doesn’t put someone in an embarrassing situation. Bomani Jones gave me a great phone call one time during this job and reminded me of certain ways to post certain things. Because certain aggregators out there, they’ll clip you out. And so [you post] stuff that’s this whole piece of the pie. A whole piece.

It’s basically my honor to get this message out. When Dan says something, I’m like, people gotta hear that. You gotta hear the way he put it. And so it means a lot to me to make sure it is up to par.

AR: How do you know what’s going to be the right clip to put the talent in the perfect position?

JG: It’s getting to know them for real. That’s basically the key. I think that’s the key to make the whole world around, communication. It’s one thing to say, ‘Okay, this is what I think about this person and this is what I assume they would like.’ It’s another thing to invite them over for dinner. It’s another thing to invite them out to a movie or the bar. Hang out with your brothers and sisters. Me and Jessica (Smetana) hang out, Lucy (Rhoden), the production, the camera crew, we all hang out as friends. You feel me. And so whenever it comes to the work side, I kind of know what they like, because that’s my friend. Like you understand and you take care of your people. It’ll hurt me if I put something out that they didn’t want. So I take it into context. Just being a brother.

AR: Tell me a little bit about strategy. Like what are the different strategies you have for different platforms?

JG: That’s one thing I’m getting schooled on right now because at first I was just a guy who’s you know, posting things that I think would be cool. But now we’ve got people in place like Kirsten and Thomas. Thomas is a YouTube specialist – algorithm wise, keyword wise. Kirsten, she’s an algorithm expert on Twitter, Instagram, what time of day to post, what times of day when you’re not getting traffic. So I’m soaking up information from like I said, hanging out with these people. So I’m getting the game from them and learning as I go.

Another important part of it is I’m not ashamed to let somebody know that I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I don’t know what this is. And I found that I’ve learned more in those moments of humility than I’ve learned trying to do it myself or handle it on my own. I love the community aspect of this job.

AR: How much would you say of the content that you’re doing, and also what you’re putting out on social media, is trying stuff and being experimental?

JG: I would say when it comes to Dan and his costumes, and ping pong, everything is a trial for the most part because they’re so different. These are not 20 year old men that even know the trend. First, I gotta introduce the TikTok to them. And so getting the buy-in is always hilarious. I get so much joy in seeing Dan and Stugotz try some young person stuff.

AR: How important is it for you, personally, to have a team that you can lean on for new and emerging platforms?

JG: It’s important because from 2020 to 2023, it was only me. And Ryan Cortes as well, salute to Ryan Cortes. Whenever he could find time to help me out, he helped me out, taking clips from different shows as well. That whole time I was so petrified that I was gonna make a mistake. Because we got Jemele Hill, we got Dan Le Batard we got Bomani, we got intelligent people. And me putting their words online, I felt the pressure from 2020 to when the first formal help came in, because I’m just that kind of person. So if I make a mistake, if I make a typo, if Clay Travis aggregates this I’m like ‘oh my god.’

It’s been very important for me to feel like if I do make a mistake it’s not the end of the world. During the first three years, I couldn’t handle it because I was acting like I could. They didn’t know I was juggling all these plates. But now that I got help, it’s way more fun to do. And way more, I’d say therapeutic just for me as a man to just be able to lean on a brother or sister for help. Because I’m used to doing everything alone. And I don’t think that that’s healthy in the long run.

AR: To wrap up anything else you want to say, any bold takes about the social media space or anything like that?

JG: Man, I think that we need to show more love man. If we can band together and just no matter what, no matter what your allegiance is, if your show is left, right, if your show is Democrat or Republican, we can do a better job of showing each other love online. We don’t got to stoop to all the negativity that the world is used to. It’s up to us to be the change we want to see.

I feel like as social media people, people be listening when we tweet and stuff, so if we can make it more about peace and love. And if we do have an opinion, let’s make sure that thing is still wrapped in respect. You know what I mean? So let’s progress the game social media people, let’s progress the game with love.

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WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit

“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”

Jason Barrett

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The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.

I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.

Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.

Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.

Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.

I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.

As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.

In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.

Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.

A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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