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The Challenge of Replacing High Profile Personalities

Jason Barrett

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In light of the recent news of Colin Cowherd leaving ESPN, I thought it’d be a good time to take a look at the challenges of replacing a major brand name, why personalities leave and how the process works.

The reality in today’s media world is that any great talent who works for a brand and delivers results is going to be desired by another company at some point. While a GM, PD and Host may start off a relationship with the intent of enjoying a career lasting relationship together, the truth is that people who perform, like to be desired, and those positive feelings get tested when other competitors enter the equation and start throwing larger dollars, more flexibility and more control their way.

russoFor example, if you were a New York sports radio fan, you likely grew up on Mike and the Mad Dog and would never picture them apart, even though they may have had their personal differences. Yet when Sirius XM entered the conversation with a large chunk of money and building a network around Chris’ brand name, Russo’s stay with Mike came to an end after nineteen years.

If you grew up on ESPN and enjoyed watching Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann own SportsCenter and make it must-see sports television, you’d believe they’d be there forever. Well not only did Keith leave to work for Fox Sports, TBS, MSNBC and a few other groups but Dan did as well. Today Dan has rebuilt his brand through multiple outlets. He has a TV deal for the radio show with DirecTV, a radio deal with Premiere Radio Networks, a TV anchor position for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, he appears frequently in Aadm Sandler films and he has a content arrangement with Sports Illustrated.

romeRemember the powerful sixteen year relationship between Jim Rome and Premiere Radio Networks? It was thought to be unbreakable. Until it was. Jim was courted to head to CBS and he jumped ship to host his radio show for the CBS Sports Network, make television appearances on CBS’ bigger sporting events and host his own television program for Showtime.

In all three cases, the talent were very successful, built a large following with sports fans and other media companies took notice and were prepared to compete to lure them away. When each of these personalities were given more money, more flexibility and more control, they exited the places where they had built their brand name and value. And you can’t blame any of them because most people would do the exact same thing.

Keep in mind, this isn’t only happening on the network levels or in market #1. This happens in many other cities as well. Nobody knows that reality more than myself as I had to go through a number of changes with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco plus a few in St. Louis too.

EDWhen I was overseeing The Game, we launched with an afternoon show hosted by Brandon Tierney and Eric Davis. Like with any new relationship, they had their fair share of challenges but they also had a lot of talent and a strong sound. It was easy to see pretty quickly that if they could stick it out together they had the potential to have a lot of success.

However, one year into the relationship Eric was pursued by the NFL Network and they were offering morning drive, major exposure across the country and a lot of money. Given Eric’s background as a former NFL player this made all the sense in the world for him to explore and while it personally sucked for myself, Brandon and our company, if any of us had been in that same situation we’d have done the same exact thing and left. While the intent wasn’t to leave, the opportunity was too great for E.D to pass up.

One thing I’ve learned as a manager is that as hard as it may be at the moment to see the solution and while it may be personally exhausting dealing with the backlash of losing a popular personality from a passionate audience, eventually the show does go on, another great personality joins the team and fills the void, and you can still have success.

prosconsWhat’s important when going through one of these situations is to not let your emotions get in the way of decision making. Those in my inner circle will learn of my passion and opinions on the situation but once it’s time to get down to business and move forward, that becomes the focus. When you let your personal feelings get in the way of business it’s usually a bad omen. While decisions may not always be popular, it’s about growing an audience and being profitable – not just satisfying the audience! People often forget that this is a business and the last time I checked, nobody stays in business long if they’re not making money.

Once I know a personality has made a choice to move on and I know the company has done everything it can to retain them, it’s on to the next plan. I don’t have time to waste and my employer, our clients and our audience are expecting a solution. I’ll normally take a few hours to clear my head and let the emotions of the situation subside, think about what could be potentially exciting and great if we could pull it off, start compiling a list of potential targets, and then begin making phone calls and sending emails to see what’s possible.

BTBucherThe second I knew Eric was gone, my focus turned towards how to surround Brandon with a strong partner, who to target for the audition process and what the timeline should be for filling the vacancy. Over the next 4-6 weeks I’d bring in Ric Bucher, Mychael Urban, Gary Payton, Rod Woodson, Jon Ritchie and Lincoln Kennedy for tryouts and we ultimately felt Bucher was the best fit of the bunch to fit with Brandon and replace Eric.

Unfortunately I had to go through that same process a couple of other times over the next two years as a number of high profile personalities were either sought out for their abilities by larger networks or they wanted to explore a change in their careers and while we got through it and put the brand in a strong position, it was very challenging and not a lot of fun.

bernieI can go on and on about a number of these situations because they’re more common than you realize. In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz left his radio show which was a giant void for 101 ESPN. My understudy and current PD Chris Neupert came out of that situation with flying colors though as he moved Chris Duncan from the afternoon show and paired him with Anthony Stalter while replacing Duncan’s Cardinals presence on the afternoon show with Brad Thompson. While I’m sure he’d have preferred to have Bernie stay and continue dominating the market in middays, he found another way to succeed once it was understood that Bernie wasn’t going to continue.

If there’s one positive going through a process like this, it’s that it really does test your resolve and allow you to find out what you’re made of. I look at it as a personal challenge and opportunity to do something big. Word of advice to those in hiring positions – if you don’t like pressure, do something else. The process will cause you to lose sleep, tear your insides apart and you’ll have every set of eyes inside and outside of your building watching you and waiting to see how you adapt. One sign of weakness and you can lose the confidence of the room. If you can’t perform with your back to the wall there are many other jobs with less stress.

sklarOne of the fun parts of this process is allowing yourself to think outside the box. Let’s be honest, high profile athletes, broadcasters and entertainers aren’t browsing your company’s website checking the jobs section to find you, so if you have an idea, it’s your job to find them, explain your idea and get a sense if it’s something worth exploring. I’ve had the pleasure of having discussions with people I’d never have imagined talking with about a local sports radio show but when you open up your mind, anything is possible. The old saying applies, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward so you can never be afraid of being ballsy.

That makes for a perfect segway because I don’t know of any ballsier of a move than replacing Tony Kornheiser at the ESPN Radio network with an unknown commodity named Colin Cowherd but that’s what Bruce Gilbert did in 2006 and here we are ten years later talking about Colin’s upcoming departure and how it’ll be a major blow to ESPN.

cutbudgetSo that leads us to the obvious question “how does ESPN survive without him“? The answer is simple – the same way they have before when they’ve lost Tony Bruno, Tony Kornheiser, Dan Patrick and Scott Van Pelt. But this time they’ll have to do it with shackles around their ankles due to Disney’s mandate to reduce expenses.

Does it suck to lose Colin? Yes. He’s a dynamite talent and one of the industry’s best. Does it make you question what’s happening at the four letter network when you see Scott Van Pelt and Colin both leave radio shows within a few months in addition to the television staff losing Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann? Yes. But they’re still the largest sports media company in the world and they’re always going to have talent options to consider so do I expect them to come out of this and make a solid hire? I do.

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That doesn’t mean the show will be as good as Colin’s or a good fit for the markets where his show aired but they will have options. For example, internally they have Dan Le Batard who could be moved up, they’ve got Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley in Los Angeles who they could consider and they’ve got every other sports broadcaster on the planet looking at Colin’s vacancy as the launching pad for their career much like Colin saw it that way when he replaced Kornheiser.

What I do think is a bigger concern for ESPN at this time isn’t whether they’ll fill Colin’s void. It’s how do they keep their revenue stable when advertisers are losing the high profile personality brands they’ve associated their products with. Usually when a major change is made, clients take a wait and see approach or invest less during the interim period.

berryOne other challenge for ESPN will be, how many of their radio affiliates will continue clearing Colin’s timeslot if Colin isn’t there? Let’s face it, stations who clear network programming are doing it because it reduces expenses for hiring talent and because it offers a high profile name that the audience will be familiar with. If the radio station clearing the show doesn’t see the replacement as a strong option (ex: Tirico replacing Patrick) they’ll pull the plug and put in a local show. This just happened yesterday as Arizona Sports 98.7FM struck immediately by naming former NFL superstar Bertrand Berry to replace Colin’s spot in Phoenix.

The other factor that plays into this is how does Colin’s replacement fit the market where the show is being cleared? One of the positives that Colin brought was that he had a strong west coast style which was an alternative to the network’s east coast heavy presentation. If his replacement though is heavily invested in Yankees-Red Sox talk or things that don’t have appeal beyond the east coast, and you’re a station clearing the show in California, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona or Washington, that may cause stations to battle the network and force change with their programming options.

ESFoxAnd if that wasn’t enough to consider, if you run a station who has a relationship with ESPN Radio and you’ve carried Colin’s program and received solid ratings or revenue from it, what will you do when his program is pitched by Fox Sports and you have to choose between adding Colin and losing your ESPN brand affiliation or keeping the affiliation and losing access to his show?

Those are the types of decisions that keep programmers and executives up at night and while they’re not fun or easy to tackle, the great ones find a way to navigate through the difficulty. Nobody has done that better in sports radio circles than Mark Chernoff who had to overcome losing Don Imus and Chris Russo at WFAN and both times wound up with higher performing programs (Boomer & Carton and Mike Francesa). That’s the task that awaits ESPN and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond since this is unfamiliar territory.

dlrWhile I’m sure today is a difficult day for the ESPN brass, a lot can be fixed by making a series of strong programming decisions. On the other hand, they can’t afford to make any move similar to the one CBS made years ago when they replaced the departing Howard Stern with David Lee Roth. Too much is at stake. Given the recent PR facing ESPN due to the departures of Olbermann, Simmons and Cowherd, now would be a good time to hit a homerun and remind people why they are the biggest brand in sports entertainment.

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BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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