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Is Sports Radio Ready For Its Future?

Jason Barrett

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A few weeks ago I announced on this site my intentions to leave San Francisco as Program Director of 95.7 The Game in the upcoming months. After making that announcement, I had little desire to write. Some of that was due to being gone for a few business trips and some of it was due to needing to focus on some conversations about my future.

But then last week happened.

RISCTwo discussions in particular stuck with me and have had my mind racing for the past few days. First, I was in Dallas for the Radio Ink Sports Conference and during my time there I had the chance to moderate a panel which focused on the mind of millennial listeners. I was on stage with three college students. Two were 21-years old and the other was 26.

Over the course of 45 minutes, I hit all three students with a barrage of questions on their perceptions and interest in sports radio and I along with the rest of the room learned that they live in a different world where content is only king if it can be consumed quickly. If it requires sifting through your podcast to find it, waiting through a commercial break or needing to wait for a host to finish rambling off-topic, they’re gone. Even the big name guest means little if it doesn’t include a hook worth sticking around for.

In their words, Twitter and TV provide the result they desire and sports radio puts up too many road blocks to get what they want. In the case of television, they like the sidebar which tells them when certain stories will be covered and that allows them to use their time more efficiently while still getting what they desire from the program.

TwitterIn the case of Twitter, the information is out there immediately and can be consumed in a matter of seconds and they don’t have to wait for other stories or commercials to finish or for hosts to get back on track. They follow who they want, when they want and they get the information they desire quickly so they can alert their friends and look smart, informed and continue the conversation.

In each of their cases they were drawn to stories that revolved around drama and conflict and when I probed on why they start their day with Twitter and not with radio, they held up their phone and said it was where they check first. When they were reminded that sports radio stations were also on the same device and could also be listened to on the same device, they pointed out the flaws with radio’s apps and said that until the experience was comparable to other forms of media they wouldn’t be going that route.

boredIt wasn’t what many in the room wanted to hear but it was helpful because the only way we improve our products is to understand why the consumer does or doesn’t use our brand. It sounds cliche but we only get one chance to make a first impression and the 25-34 year old audience that awaits us in the next 5-10 years is very different and less likely to use our form of media. They get bored fast, they prefer audio on demand and they’re not loyal. We either serve them on their terms or we risk them not associating with our brand.

In the room I pointed out 4 key words to 4 key industries to make a point of what we could be facing if we don’t stay alert and ahead of the curve. Those 4 words were Music, Movies, Print and Phones. If you asked an executives of each of these industries 20 years ago about their future I’m sure many of them said they were well prepared to succeed. They learned fast though that if you don’t improvise and stay alert, you get knocked off.

Think about it, home phones and pay phones have been replaced by cell phones, social networking sites and app blockbustermessaging software. Video stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have been replaced by your cable company, Hulu, YouTube and Netflix who serve your needs right inside your home. Music went from cassettes and CD’s to digital downloads, Youtube, Pandora, Spotify and iHeart and the newspaper has been replaced by the web and social media. You’re more likely today to find your next apartment or home on Craigslist or through a website than you used to do through a newspaper’s classified section.

While the panel I conducted with those three millennial college students was interesting and informative and made me think about where we’re headed as an industry in the future, there was a second conversation about the past that also stuck with me.

smulyanIf you haven’t had the chance, I highly recommend reading Fred Jacobs’ interview with Jeff Smulyan of Emmis. Jeff was the founding father of WFAN in New York City. While we all know how powerful The Fan is now and we see the boom that has happened to the sports radio format, there was a time when many thought Jeff was crazy to entertain a format around sports. Many of his closest friends and peers lost faith and trust in him and there were numerous times when the plug was nearly pulled on his experiment.

Two things Jeff said really struck me and I believe he’s 100% accurate on both accounts. The first was that it takes staying power to be successful. Too often people attempt things and if it doesn’t hit right away, they change it. This doesn’t mean everything deserves to last forever but if you truly believe in something or someone and have evidence to show that you’re making strides, you’ve got to stay the course and battle for what you believe in.

jobsThe second thing Jeff said that hit home was the quote “The world is never changed by doing the same things everybody else does. It just never is. It’s changed by doing what is different.” For someone like myself who loves Steve Jobs quotes and everything he stood for professionally, I felt the connection to that quote because once again there’s a lot of truth in it. If Jeff didn’t take the chance launching an all-sports station and absorbing the wrath from his bosses and everyone around him, this column may not exist and neither may our entire industry.

The ironic thing is that every year I head to various radio conferences, read numerous articles on our format and talk to numerous executives in our industry and there’s this plea to continue taking risks, trying new things and not following the same patterns. Yet we’re also the first to put up a stop sign and slow down our own momentum when we enter these murky waters.

The reality is that we all like to speak that language and sound bullish and smart but most people don’t like to do the unpopular thing especially when it puts their own body of work and future in question. Ask yourself this if you’re a programmer or talent, what is the one thing you want to do that you believe will make an impact on our industry but you’ve been hesitant to do it because of the fear of failure? Do you believe in it enough to bet your career on it?

nophoneWhen I launched 101 ESPN in St. Louis and 95.7 The Game in San Francisco I did so with the mentality that we’d start off by not taking phone calls and focus instead on providing a stronger content experience filled with more passion, opinion, insight, strong guests and entertaining banter between co-hosts. It wasn’t exactly the most earth shattering idea in the world but given that both markets had done sports talk forever and relied heavily on phone calls, the jury was out on whether or not I was taking the right approach.

While I love caller interaction myself and the passion of one’s voice over a text or tweet any day, I knew we had to create our own point of differentiation when establishing our brand. I also knew their was a difference in the caller entertainment value in places like NY, Philadelphia and Boston as compared to St. Louis and San Francisco.

focusgroupAfter the first year at one of my station’s, we conducted a focus group with a number of listeners. Many in the room were waiting to hear that we were missing the boat by not being caller driven and when the question came up and 35 out of 40 said they preferred the content and lack of calls they were surprised. After the session finished I was asked if the company should take the same approach in other markets. I said no because what worked in my current location wouldn’t necessarily work in another one. The main thing I wanted understood was that just because it wasn’t what we were all used to didn’t mean it couldn’t work.

As the years have passed, each of those stations take more calls but they do so with a stronger emphasis on content and directing the conversations with our audience. I’ve also pushed for the use of tweets and texts inside of content because while it may not be as entertaining as hearing the voice of a listener, it’s the way people interact today. They don’t care how they get through, just as long as they’re part of the show.

schefterIt’s no different than the way television has adapted their standards of video. 10 years ago you’d put on ESPN television and every guest was on camera. Today they’re equally as active with guests who appear by phone. Look at your local news and you’ll find video from viewers used to compliment a story whereas 10-20 years ago they’d never have touched it. The point has been made by the consumer, give me the content now and I’ll deal with less production value.

Let’s turn our attention though back to sports radio. How many stations do you turn on and hear a traffic report, weather report, stock report or time check? Are they really needed? We say we want to target younger demographics and have supported that position by shifting brands and content to the FM dial yet then we deliver benchmarks that are targeted to the upper end of the demo. Does that make sense?

reportsIn some locations maybe it does but I bet the radio station would go on just fine without them. I can’t recall ever hearing a 25-34 year old male get upset over not hearing a stock or weather report. The sales department may not like that because it’s change and those are extra opportunities to attach sponsors to but if you don’t provide a strong content experience to generate ratings (which also helps the sales team), you’re going to lose your audience’s interest.

As we look towards the future, what are some things that you think will change? What trends will be different? Who will innovate and lead the charge to make our format stronger? Social media is becoming the place to talk about sports just as sports talk radio became that destination the past 10 years after surpassing the print industry.

While I’m not Nostradamus, here are 10 things I think could take place in the future.

2LS1. Minority Voices Will Increase – The format is dominated now by white males 25-55 and I think there will be stronger balance over the next 10 years. We’ve already seen a number of female hosts begin to invade lineups and I expect you’ll see more Black and Hispanic talents on the air too. With many major market stations broadcasting to audiences which are more than 50% non-white, I think there’ll be a bigger push to reflect each market more fairly.

sc2. Sports Updates Will Be In Danger – While they’ve been a fixture in the format since its inception, I see them being eliminated or reduced in the future. In many markets there has already been a shift to having on-air hosts do them. I can see some stations adding branded team reports or created content pieces in breaks and I believe the anchor’s future role is going to revolve more around reporting, contributing to talk shows and through the involvement of social and digital media. The need for information and talented people won’t change but how the consumer gathers the information and where it’s presented will.

social3. Say Hello To Social Media Reporters/Video Content Generators – There will be a bigger shift to add people to help radio stations compete stronger in the social and digital space. Pushing out content messages is necessary but the demand to interact back will increase and stations will need to dedicate time and people to make sure it’s a part of their overall strategy. As television has required reporters now to capture their own video and shoot their own standups, radio will look to have multi-purpose people who can write, create video and interact socially. It’ll also be more valuable to station advertisers.

digital4. Digital Media & NTR Sales Will Increase – Buyers are spending more money on social, digital and event driven media and the measurements of digital are a lot easier to analyze and receive faster. The need to be stronger in this area will be important for sales teams to thrive and with advertisers demanding stronger ROI on their investments, radio companies will need more than a great brand and Nielsen ratings story to stay on buys. Text and Email databases, Social and Digital Media inclusion, Content associations, Phone App sponsorships and Events which generate immediate results will all be necessary.

atlradio5. Play by Play Radio Rights Deals Will Decrease – While the dollars continue to reach astronomical heights for television and certain radio markets continue to perform well with LIVE play-by-play, the fact of the matter is that most of the programming takes place at night and audiences are going to become even harder to reach through audio during off peak hours. They’ve also become costly and put many operators in the red and with a growing need inside the industry to show profitability, brands will look harder at the bottom line than the importance of being connected to local franchises. If deals do stay the same or increase, it won’t be without the radio station getting more control of inventory, exclusive categories and programming features and title sponsorship opportunities inside of the broadcast.

nflradio6. An Extension of Our Format Will Be Created – Sirius XM dove into the NFL space early on with its own branded channel and I believe you’ll see an all dedicated NFL channel or MLB channel on terrestrial radio over the next 5-10 years. Whether it’s on the local or network level is still foggy but the next wave of sports talk radio is going to come in the form of specific league content.

On-Demand7. On-Demand Content Will Become a Bigger Focus – Podcast One has done a really nice job acquiring popular celebrity personalities to host their own podcasts and I see sports radio doing more of this in the future. Whether it’s hiring players, coaches, agents, scouts or GM’s to create unique content, I think you’ll find more audio options available with higher profile people.

bonus8. Digital Bonus Incentives – How many operators ask talent to write, chat, tweet, create podcasts or provide additional video? What does the talent get for adding those responsibilities to their regular line of work? Usually nothing. When dollars start shifting digitally and certain talent start attracting stronger numbers online, on social and on video, you’ll find incentive programs created to make sure talent remain involved in helping these brands succeed beyond the over the air signal.

local9. Major Markets Will Go More Local – While national programming has its value in the marketplace, the reality is that local sports talk dominates in the ratings. Networks will be in good shape with digital dashboards, apps and partnerships that help their strategy of delivering audio to fans on multiple platforms but local operators will feel the need to put more focus on local shows with local personalities in order to help increase ratings and revenue.

jefffisher10. Weekly Guest Deals Will Become More Complex – Popular sports personalities, reporters, columnists, athletes, coaches, executives and owners have grown accustomed to appearing on local stations regularly in exchange for cash compensation. While these appearances have great branding value, they’re only 10-15 minutes in length and don’t deliver enough bang for the buck. I see radio operators getting more in the future or walking away from these deals. You may see certain guests and companies start doing deals in multiple markets to create better value for both sides and you’ll see these become more of a fixture in rights deals too. In some deals you may even see the weekly guest provide special hosting assignments to the station in addition to appearances, voiced commercials, signed merchandise and other unique experiences.

Which ones am I right about? Which ones am I wrong about? The future will tell the story. For now, we can debate it and each make our case for where we stand on each issue.

googleradioAside from the 10 I listed, I’m sure there will be others too and that’s a positive (Does Apple, Google or Pandora launch a sports talk network?). This format is nearly 30 years old which is still relatively young and with experience comes knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. If we want to grow and connect strongly with the next generation, we’ve got to keep challenging ourselves to make the format better and adapt to how they use our products.

The big question I have is, will the next Jeff Smulyan have the time, courage and support to launch the next big idea and see it reach its full potential? There’s a fine line between ratings and innovation and the best creations don’t happen overnight.

Barrett Blogs

Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, Don Martin, Sam Pines and Amanda Brown to Speak at the 2023 BSM Summit

“All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers and bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room.”

Jason Barrett

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I announced last week that the 2023 BSM Summit will be returning to Los Angeles. We had a fantastic experience in LA in 2019, and I expect our next conference on March 21-22, 2023 to be even bigger and better. But to do that, we need the right people on stage, and I’m excited today to reveal the first six additions to the show.

The 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles is proud to welcome FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 host Colin Cowherd, FOX Sports 1 co-host of the new weekday program SPEAK, Joy Taylor, CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network superstar Jim Rome, FOX Sports Radio and iHeart Sports SVP of Programming, Don Martin, and the brain trust of ESPN LA 710, Senior Vice President Sam Pines and program director Amanda Brown.

All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers. They bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room, and I’m sure those in attendance at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC will enjoy and appreciate learning from them.

We will have more announcements in the future about additional speakers to the 2023 BSM Summit. A reminder that if you work in the media industry and would like to attend the conference, you can purchase tickets and secure your hotel room by visiting BSMSummit.com.

I’d also like to thank last year’s sponsors who have already confirmed participation in our 2023 event. The Summit isn’t possible without their support. For folks interested in sponsorship details for the conference, please email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now here’s some press information about each of our six participants.

Colin Cowherd: He is one of the most thought-provoking and successful sports talk show hosts in the country, and has been a key part of FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 since September 2015. He is also the founder of The Volume, a digital-first sports media brand which has created an immediate impact in podcasting and on YouTube.

Cowherd’s three-hour sports talk program, THE HERD WITH COLIN COWHERD, airs simultaneously on FS1 and the FOX Sports Radio Network weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET. It is also available on www.FOXSportsRadio.comwww.FOXSports.com and has a dedicated iHeartRadio station, available live and throughout the day. The Herd has been chosen by industry programmers and executives as the top national sports talk radio show an unprecedented six times in seven years as part of BSM’s annual Top 20 series.

Jim Rome: Jim Rome is heard nationwide hosting ‘The Jim Rome Show‘ weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET on CBS Sports Radio. The program can also be watched on the CBS Sports Network. The show delivers three hours of aggressive, informed sports opinions, rapid-fire dialogue, tons of sports smack, and is consistently supported by Rome’s legions of fans otherwise known as the clones.

Rome also delivers his unique take on the day’s sports headlines via the CBS Sports Minute, 60-second commentaries which can be heard hourly on CBS Sports Radio affiliate stations. He also hosts his own podcast, The Reinvention Project, contributes to CBS Sports television, and has previously been seen on ESPN, FOX Sports, and in numerous movies and TV shows.

Joy Taylor: Joy Taylor co-hosts FS1’s new weekday program SPEAK alongside Emmanuel Acho and former NFL running back LeSean McCoy. She has previously worked as a co-host on THE HERD, as the moderator of SKIP AND SHANNON: UNDISPUTED, and as the host of her own podcast, “Maybe I’m Crazy”. She has also hosted programs for FOX Sports Radio.

Prior to joining FOX Sports, Taylor spent five years in Miami radio, including a successful three-year stint at 790 AM The Ticket, where she was co-host for the station’s top-rated morning-drive program, “Zaslow and Joy Show,” after starting with the station as the show’s executive producer. Taylor also served as the host of “Thursday Night Live” and “Fantasy Football Today” on CBSSports.com. She is a Pittsburgh native and the younger sister of former Miami Dolphins star Jason Taylor.

Don Martin: A 27-year veteran of iHeartMedia, Don is currently the SVP of Programming for FOX Sports Radio, the EVP for iHeartMedia Sports, and the SVP of KLAC-AM 570 LA Sports. Additionally, he provides oversight of the iHeartPodcast Network, which includes more than 40 national and 100 local sports podcasts and exclusive podcast agreements with the NFL and NBA. Don has been a featured speaker at prior BSM Summit’s and was recently a guest on The Jason Barrett Podcast. To hear it, click here.

Sam Pines: A fixture with Good Karma Brands since 2000, Pines is now charged with leading ESPN LA 710 since GKB assumed control of local operations. Prior to taking over the Los Angeles sports brand, Pines served as the GM and Sales Manager of ESPN Cleveland from 2006-2022. He has written a sales and leadership series, “Time to Win”, which focuses on coaching relationship-based selling and marketing, and is also involved with numerous boards and nonprofits.

Amanda Brown: Amanda has spent her entire twenty year career in sports radio working for the worldwide leader in sports. Currently responsible for creating and implementing the programming strategy for ESPN LA 710, Amanda has enjoyed nearly twelve years with the LA based brand after spending nearly six years in Bristol, CT producing national shows for the ESPN Radio network. Her career started behind the scenes in Dallas, TX where she worked as a producer at ESPN 103.3.

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Barrett Blogs

7 Years of BSM and The Official Announcement For The 2023 BSM Summit

“Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations.”

Jason Barrett

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Apologies in advance if some of this column feels like I’m giving myself and our brand a pat on the back. I am. When this company launched, many assumed I was just writing a few articles and biding my time until another programming job popped up. I had a number of friends say ‘there’s no future in sports radio consulting‘ and after putting my programming career in the rear view mirror to go home to NY, I wasn’t sure what was in store for me.

What I did know is that my interest in doing the same thing that I just did for the past decade in three different cities was gone, but my interest in working with brands and individuals was still very much alive. I loved creating and programming 95.7 The Game but my choice to come home was driven by personal reasons, not professional. I wrote in great detail about it back in February 2015 so if you’re not aware of my story and want to know more, click the link.

Some of you do know these details already so I’m not going to repeat myself. I also don’t like talking on this website about personal issues because that’s not what brings us together each day. Media news, insight, and opinion does. But when this day rolls around each year, I hope you can understand why I take a moment to celebrate it. I moved home with no job, no plan, and no business but 7 years later, here we are are still ticking.

Launching this company has been the best professional decision I’ve ever made. Erika Nardini just had this conversation recently with Mark Cuban and he said taking a leap when you have nothing is the best time to do so. As crazy as that sounds, he couldn’t have been more right. That said, it’s pretty humbling going from successfully managing a top 4 market brand and earning six figures to being unemployed with no income and not being sure what you want to do. There were many days where I wondered ‘what was this all for?’. I hadn’t been without a job for a long time but I didn’t want to rush into something I wasn’t excited about especially since I knew I had to take care of my son and wanted to set a good example for him.

When I announced I was leaving San Francisco, I said I’d consider staying with the company if a position could be created that would allow me to work from NY and travel to help brands. Entercom back then wasn’t as big as Audacy is now, so that wasn’t an option. That led to small talk about consulting but quite frankly, I had no interest in doing that. I thought consulting was something folks did at the end of their careers or others used as a temporary excuse to explain what they were up to after leaving a job. I was 41 at the time and felt I had two decades left to give to the business, and if I was going to go down that road, I’d do it differently.

As I began to clear my head and think about what was next, I decided I was going to create the position that Entercom didn’t have available except rather than being exclusive to one group, I’d be accessible to all of them. I wanted to make a difference in multiple cities and expand my reach beyond radio. Now I work with brands involved in radio, TV, podcasting, social media, sales, sports betting, etc..

I’m also very entrepreneurial, so the idea of building a digital company that focused on covering the sports media business had great appeal to me. I built my radio career by doing everything early on and saw that as an advantage. Back in 2015, there were outlets covering the radio business, but none dedicated to sports radio. Even the newspapers that wrote about sports TV and other media issues, often examined them with folks who hadn’t been on the inside for quite some time. I had recent experiences programming brands in three different parts of the country, I learned how to build a website, I didn’t mind selling myself, and I wasn’t restricted from writing and sharing my honest and candid opinions. That helped me give BSM life and a voice. I also had one other advantage. I was talking weekly with industry people, going to different cities to work with multiple groups and seeing up close why certain things worked and others didn’t. That helped me tell better stories, build deeper relationships, and assist clients with greater knowledge.

Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations. I’ve been presented with opportunities to work with groups I never expected. I’ve had people reach out to present opportunities, including purchasing the company, that others would be shocked were considered (Btw I’m not looking to sell). Our brand now generates hundreds of thousands in traffic per month thanks to an exceptional team of 20 writers which produces 35-40 pieces of content per day on the sports and news media industry. In fact, August was our best month of traffic this year. We were up 30% year over year. We create 5 podcasts per week, distribute multiple newsletters, consult a strong amount of media brands, sell and work with advertising partners to help grow their businesses, deliver content through social media channels that are followed by thousands of people, and host an annual conference, which is well attended and supported by industry professionals and broadcast companies.

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Which brings me to the next part of this column – the 2023 BSM Summit.

After hosting our last two shows in New York City, I told all in attendance that our next event would return to the west coast. Finding the right city and venue takes time, and this one was tough because there were great options in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but after reviewing the possibilities, I’m thrilled to share that the 2023 BSM Summit will take place in Los Angeles, California at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California. The dates will be Tuesday March 21st and Wednesday March 22nd (we didn’t want to do dates that conflicted with the NCAA Tournament). Show time both days will once again be 9a-5p PT.

I couldn’t be happier with this location. The space we have to work with is fantastic, the people involved with USC have been great, and to bring a room full of sports media professionals to the USC campus will be awesome. We’ve also partnered with the USC Hotel which is within walking distance of our venue. Room rates and ticket prices for the Summit can now be found on BSMSummit.com.

I know everyone will start texting, emailing, calling, and DM’ing to ask about tickets, speakers, sponsorships, the after-party and awards show, etc.. I’ll have follow up announcements coming soon about the first few speakers we’ve lined up. Most people attended the 2022 show live, but some checked out the show virtually too. I’m not sure yet if we’re going to make this one available virtually. If we do, we’ll announce it on the site at a later time. Like anything, if enough people want it we’ll find a way to get it done. In the meantime, Stephanie Eads is setting up conversations with former and future conference partners so if you have a sponsorship question, hit her up by email at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

One thing I do want to ask of those who are planning to attend the Summit, email me to let me know what you’re interested in learning about at the show. We’ve been blessed to have some incredibly smart, successful people in the room, but as cool as that may be, I want to make sure folks return to their buildings afterwards with information to improve their operations. This only works if you take the knowledge and use it to help your brands and people. If anything in particular is of interest, please let me know by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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As I look ahead to year 8, I’m extremely bullish on continuing our momentum on the sports media side. We’ve just added Eddie Moran as a new features writer, and if it makes business sense to add more writers or create additional podcasts down the line, we’ll examine those opportunities as they arise. A few years ago it was just Demetri and I running the day to day business. Now we have Stephanie, Andy, Garrett Searight, Arky Shea, Alex Reynolds, and Eduardo Razo involved, and though having a larger staff doesn’t guarantee success, I like how we’re positioned. If anything, our focus now is on doing impactful work not busy work. As much as I’d love to keep everyone and never stop adding, running a business effectively requires regularly examining what is and isn’t working. Having people involved who are passionate and consistently reliable is vital. If they can’t be then it means the fit isn’t right.

Having said that, I believe we can always get better. As we move ahead, I’m counting on my team to find and create more original content, strengthen and increase relationships, gain a stronger grasp of SEO, and collectively, we’ll work on improving our digital marketing to promote our content and develop better affiliate partnerships. One way the industry can help us in return, let us know when you create something on-air that might fit the site. Most of what we gather comes from finding it ourselves yet content gets created daily on sports TV and radio. We’re not going to write stories about sports opinions but if it’s media-centric, a heads up helps. So too does sharing our content on social media.

Though BSM is an integral part of our company’s future growth, I am equally as bullish on building Barrett News Media. We started BNM on September 14, 2020 and our first year was slow. We needed to dip our toe in rather than dive in head first, but over the past 9 months we’ve increased our relationships and our readers are now starting to see what we’re capable of. We’ve assembled a strong cast of news writers, reporters, and columnists, and just added to our team last week with the addition of Joe Salzone. Adding writers and consulting clients remains an ongoing process, and make no mistake about this, I want to help news/talk stations just as I have helped sports brands. Maybe down the line we’ll add a few news media podcasts too, but we have other things to focus on first.

For starters, if you’ve read this website over the years then you’re likely familiar with the BSM Top 20. It’s a series we produce recognizing the best in the sports media industry. It’s voted on by a large number of sports radio programmers and executives, and for 6 years in a row it has been our website’s largest traffic driver. I thought previously about doing a series for the news media industry, but because we had less help, little time, and an unfamiliar brand, I held off.

But that’s about to change.

Later this year, we will introduce the very first BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will include voting participation from news media programmers and executives, with the goal being to showcase the best national radio shows and podcasts, and the top local stations, shows, and PD’s from both the major and mid markets.

It will be a giant undertaking but it’s long overdue for our brand. Though I’m sure the process will be exhausting, I’m looking forward to sharing the results and shining a brighter light on the news/talk media business. When I’m ready to announce the dates and schedule for the series, we’ll reveal it here on the site and across our BNM social media channels. Stay tuned.

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As I bring this column to an end, I’ll end by sharing a few things that have surprised me over the years. First, I’m seeing less interest the past 3 years from younger people becoming programmers than I did between 2015-2019. Is that because of the pandemic? The rise of sports gambling? A lack of confidence in the radio industry? As someone who’s helped 15-20 brands find and hire brand leaders, and talks to more people than most, that’s concerning.

I think sports radio also needs to do a better job of grooming people for these roles and showing them a path to long-term success. PD’s should be more actively championing their people for growth too than they do. If you value someone and want to see him or her reap the rewards for their hard work, you have to look beyond how it’ll affect your day to day duties. Focus on the big picture, not just what makes your life easier.

What should concern executives is the fact that in the past five years, sports radio has lost Armen Williams, Jeremiah Crowe, Joe Zarbano, Adam Delevitt, Tony DiGiacomo, Terry Foxx, Brad Willis, Chris Baker, Tom Parker, Jay Taylor, Kyle Engelhart, Hoss Neupert, and John Hanson. I’m sure I’m missing a few too. That’s a lot of programming experience out the door including some with decades left to give to the industry. Maybe some weren’t built for the job long-term or others were kicking down the door and ready to lead but in most businesses, if you saw that type of change in key management roles, you’d be questioning if it’s an industry you want to be a part of. If the veterans don’t stay or become too expensive, and the leaders of tomorrow aren’t sticking around, where does that leave us?

From the talent end, how are you helping yourself when there isn’t a job to chase? If the only time you contact a PD is to ask about a gig, don’t be surprised when your calls go straight to voicemail. Relationships are a two-way street. Build them when there’s nothing to be gained and you’ll be amazed at how it pays off later. By the way, that goes for me too. I get asked by a lot of people to find time when there’s trouble in paradise but when life is good, crickets. Those who keep in touch and support BSM/BNM whether that’s through a monthly membership or buying a Summit ticket have more success getting a hold of me. I’m not trying to be a hard ass but I’m not an agent, so building your career isn’t my priority. Taking care of my family and business partners is. However, I do help people and make time for many, but it’s got to work both ways. My members and clients know they can ask for something and receive an answer. Others I’ve built and maintained relationships with receive the same. But if you’re counting on me to help you find work and gossip about the business with you, I’m not your guy.

If there’s been a winner the past 7 years it’s been the growth of sports betting. As other categories have produced less, sports betting has emerged as an important growth driver for the sports format. And this has happened with most of the country not even legal yet. As more states give the green light to legalize sports gambling, revenues and content opportunities should follow. We will likely reach a point where consolidation comes into play and certain brands and companies overload their content in a way that makes them insufferable to listen to but for every few setbacks there are far greater reasons to be optimistic. In the past 7 years we’ve seen Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube become big players in sports television. Might FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers, Fanatics, Barstool and others do the same in the sports media space? That’s going to be an interesting follow for sure.

Knowing how everything can change in an instant, I take nothing for granted with BSM and BNM. This could all end tomorrow, and if it did, I’d look back on it as the best days of my professional life. I want to keep growing as a professional, while remaining an asset to my current partners, and finding ways to work with new brands and companies in both sports and news media. I’m also enjoying hosting a podcast again, and if you haven’t checked out The Jason Barrett Podcast, the latest episode with Colin Cowherd is a good one to start with.

The future for sports and news media may change but both will remain viable and important. I love that we’ve been able to be a small part of this business each day for the past 7 years, and I hope to make the next 7 years as fulfilling as the past 7. If I’m able to do that, it’ll mean the 20 years I spent in studios were needed to make a nationwide impact from a home office.

So on behalf of our entire team, past and present, thank you for reading the twenty thousand pieces of content we’ve produced since 2015. None of this is possible without an army of BSM/BNM supporters. I hope to see you in Los Angeles this March for the 2023 BSM Summit.

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The Podcast Movement Conference Made a Mistake Rejecting Ben Shapiro

“If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease?”

Jason Barrett

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I’ve had the pleasure of attending multiple Podcast Movement Conferences over the years. Those involved in putting the event together do a fantastic job creating an action packed agenda full of accomplished speakers, and the visual displays and access to different brands and industry professionals have always been nothing but positive. It’s why I was disappointed this year when my schedule didn’t allow for me to make the trip to Dallas.

So imagine my surprise late last week when I learned the conference took a stance against Westwood One radio host and co-founder of The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro

Shapiro’s company was a sponsor of this year’s show, and according to reports, the well known podcaster and radio host wasn’t registered for the event. He made a brief appearance at his company’s booth, shaking hands and taking photos with fans who stopped by to say hi, and his mere presence at the show led to some protesting his involvement on social media.

After learning Shapiro had stopped by, the Podcast Movement Conference posted a series of tweets which said “Hi folks, we owe you an apology before sessions kick off for the day. Yesterday afternoon, Ben Shapiro briefly visited the PM22 expo area near The Daily Wire booth. Though he was not registered or expected, we take full responsibility for the harm done by his presence.”

The conference added, “Those of you who called this “unacceptable” are right. In 9 wonderful years growing and celebrating this medium, PM has made mistakes. The pain caused by this one will always stick with us. We promise that sponsors will be more carefully considered moving forward. No TDW representatives were scheduled to appear on panels, and Shapiro remained in the common space and did not have a badge. If you have questions, we’re here to talk. Thank you for reading, and we hope you’ll continue to join us from here on out.”

A quick search shows that Shapiro has one of the top performing podcasts on the charts. According to Westwood One, it is downloaded over fifteen million times per month. In addition, his radio program is carried on hundreds of radio stations, he has 13 million followers combined between Facebook and Twitter, and his company, The Daily Wire, adds another 5.5 million supporters to the mix. They also showed they were supportive of the conference by making a financial commitment to sponsor a booth.

Having explained all of that I was stunned that the Podcast Movement Conference took this position. Let me be clear, it was a mistake. Their stance has led to a flood of negative attention over the past 72 hours, and it all could’ve easily been avoided. Though their next event is still a year away, given how much attention this story has received, it could have a carry over effect on future sponsorships and attendance. Only time will tell.

As someone who runs an annual conference, albeit much smaller, I know how hard it is to put an event together. What the Podcast Movement organizers put together each year requires a herculean effort, which is why I’m baffled that they picked sides in this situation. The media industry is large and full of people, brands and companies with different views and approaches to business and everyday life. The second you start judging and making decisions based on personal beliefs and/or social media activity, you’re in trouble.

I’ve long maintained that if someone works in the sports media industry and wishes to learn and share information to help improve the business, they’re welcome at our BSM Summit. We make changes to our schedule each year based on what we feel is topical for the attendees but we don’t discriminate, support one brand over another or allow personal views to dictate if someone can or can’t be present.

Case in point, at our March conference, I had a few people privately upset that I asked Craig Carton to speak. Craig’s prior arrest and time served in jail is well documented. First, I have a ton of respect for what Craig has accomplished, and I believe in second chances, but personal views aside, he’s the afternoon host in the nation’s largest market working for WFAN, a top rated sports radio brand. History has shown that he’s damn good and successful, and more than qualified to speak on the subjects we cover at our event. When a few folks expressed their displeasure with my decision I told them ‘If you’re not a fan of Craig, don’t attend that session. If it bothers you beyond that, I understand if you can’t attend the show.’

Quieting the noise gets easier when you focus strictly on the business. Making everyone happy is impossible when you organize an event, but if you allow multiple viewpoints to be present in the room, you end up in a decent place more times than not.

You also have to remember that social media can make things appear worse than they are. Is the issue you’re dealing with being raised by conference partners and supporters who attend the event each year or from someone who’s not in the building and thrives on creating a social media firestorm for the causes they oppose and fight against?

Some may recall that I dealt with a few headaches in 2019 prior to our LA Summit after folks involved with groups that had no interest or desire to attend our show started trying to create a controversy out of nothing. Though it was frustrating playing defense on Christmas night when individuals from the New York Times, Deadspin and WNBA teams started poking holes in our conference’s flyer, I learned an important lesson. As long as you do the right thing and have the support and trust of your friends, family, attendees, and partners, who cares what others think or say who don’t know you and aren’t in the room for your event.

That’s what I don’t understand here. Is Shapiro not one of the most successful podcasters out there? Was his company not a paying partner of the event? If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease? Most would roll out a red carpet for someone with Shapiro’s track record of success not publicly condemn them for showing up and sponsoring the show. I know I would. I’d also do the same for someone who’s equally successful and views the world the exact opposite way.

I can’t help but wonder how folks at Westwood One feel about this incident. Don’t they promote and support this conference and include their people in the event? Think they might object to one of their top personalities being treated this way? Furthermore, how about the talk radio format? It’s no secret that most of the programming on news/talk radio stations leans right. A number of top performing podcasts follow a similar path. It’s safe to say that most in the format are going to support Shapiro, and I don’t think that helps the conference with attracting future business and participation.

To be clear, I don’t listen to Ben Shapiro’s podcast or radio show, and I don’t read The Daily Wire. I only point that out because I don’t want anyone to assume that I’m supporting him because of personal interests or a professional relationship. We’ve never spoke or crossed paths. My opinion is based solely on the facts surrounding this situation, nothing else.

That said, I understand Ben has shared opinions that some take offense to and I don’t blame those folks for not wanting to be around him. But there’s a simple solution, don’t go near him or his booth. It’s the same thing I tell people who don’t like a particular radio station’s hosts or a piece of content on our website; if you don’t like it, don’t read or listen to it. The Podcast Movement Conference takes place in a large convention center. There’s more than enough room to keep everyone separated and happy. Last time I checked, there were attendees in the room who stopped by to meet Ben at his booth. Do they not count?

Look, you don’t have to agree with Shapiro, but this is a podcasting business conference, and it’s something he’s done at a higher level than most. That qualifies him to be there. You can’t get in the middle and start determining who is and isn’t allowed in based on personal beliefs or trying to please agenda driven people on social media. Would Podcast Movement tell Joe Rogan, one of the most successful podcasters out there, that he couldn’t attend if people who didn’t like his views on Covid-19 protested? What’s next, not giving out industry awards to stations and individuals who we don’t like or agree with? When does the insanity end?

Here’s the reality, there are likely other sponsors and attendees in the room who have views that some may consider offensive. Our content and advertisers aren’t just supported by good, honest people. There are thousands, if not millions, who listen and support us who are shady, sick, and morally bankrupt. That’s beyond our control. Our job is to inform and entertain, and make people care enough to come back regularly. If we do that well, sponsors will follow. Keep those things happening, and everyone remains satisfied.

Moving forward, the Podcast Movement Conference has to decide if it wants to be open to all or only to some. I root for the conference to do well. I’ve enjoyed attending previous shows and hope to attend future ones. But if they expect to maintain support and enjoy future growth, learning from this situation is important. There’s much more money in staying neutral than alienating one side of the room.

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