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Is National Programming a Difference Maker?

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One topic that has been interesting to watch unfold over the past year has been the shift of local radio operators to take back their timeslots from national sports radio networks and replace network programming with local personalities and content. For years it was a given that to become a network affiliate, you were required to carry at least one national prime time show on your radio station.

However, in the past year alone, five top-25 markets have dropped an ESPN Radio network program to make room for a local show. Of all the national shows offered by ESPN, Mike and Mike have been hit the hardest. Four of the five changes were made during their morning drive timeslot.

In Philadelphia, 97.5 The Fanatic replaced Mike and Mike with Anthony Gargano. In Washington DC ESPN 980 introduced “The Man Cave” with Jason Paul and Chris Reid, also dropping Mike and Mike. In Seattle, 710 ESPN announced plans to reduce Mike and Mike by two hours to carry Brock and Salk and in St. Louis, the same formula is being followed with the return of Bernie Miklasz.

With Colin Cowherd departing ESPN, it’s only a matter of time until more national programming gets replaced in local markets by local operators and the first change has already taken place in Phoenix where Arizona Sports 98.7FM has named former NFL star Bertrand Berry as their permanent replacement for Cowherd’s timeslot.

Since then, The Ticket in Miami has begun airing a local program with Josh Friedman and Chris Wittyngham while ESPN offers fill-ins during the month of August. Depending on what ESPN Radio does with Colin’s slot, that shift to a local show at 10am could become permanent. Although, if Dan LeBatard gets the nod to take over for Colin on the national level, it’s unlikely The Ticket will pre-empt him.

To dig even deeper, when you look at the major markets where national shows are being cleared, many air on AM stations which are no longer a high priority for their respective companies. In many cases, the ratings on these brands are very low and the focus appears to be to simply “clear network programming and fill air-time” rather than take advantage of it.

weeiAs an example, in Boston, ESPN Radio airs on WEEI’s old AM signal 850AM. In Atlanta, ESPN is now airing on Cumulus’ 1230AM and in San Diego they clear on 1700AM. In all three cases, the stations are not destinations for local listening.

And it’s not jut ESPN Radio facing this challenge. It’s happening to Fox Sports Radio and the CBS Sports Radio Network too.

Of those three groups, CBS was thought to have the biggest opportunity to challenge ESPN when they announced they’d be entering the network space. With the company’s ability to use the power of their highly successful local brands, many expected a stronger network battle but so far that hasn’t happened.

francOf CBS Sports Radio Network’s shows, only Jim Rome’s program has received decent support in local markets. CBS’ top content earning local market distribution has been the CBS Sports Minute, which I understand Mike Francesa is a big fan of (sorry I couldn’t resist).

While Rome is clearing Los Angeles on The Beast 980, San Diego on The Mighty 1090 and Sacramento on KHTK 1140, the majority of the markets he clears are smaller. As for the network’s other shows, while they offer some solid talent, they remain challenged to receive local market clearance and support. Even in bigger markets where they do clear, they’re usually on brands with little attention and listening. Case in point, 610AM in Philadelphia, 1050AM in San Francisco and 1270AM in Detroit.

For Fox Sports Radio, the Dan Patrick Show remains a destination and although the network has done a great job adding strong talent such as Rich Eisen and Jay Mohr, the challenge also remains large when it comes to penetrating local radio markets during prime time hours. Unlike ESPN though, they don’t charge rights fees or persist on network shows being part of a local station’s lineup in exchange for a local market affiliate relationship which is smart.

Will an addition of Colin Cowherd change that? Perhaps. But for now, aside from clearing their own backyard in Los Angeles, most of the markets airing Fox national shows during prime time are outside of the Top 25. Although they do have some solid situations  in Phoenix, Seattle, San Diego, Houston and Portland.

While all of these changes are significant and very different than what was the norm five to ten years ago, it doesn’t appear to be going away.

revenueAssuming local operators continue to invest more in local personalities and content, that means that the audience reach and market clearance for network shows will decline, which you can bet advertisers will look to try and take advantage of.

So does this mean that national networks are in deep trouble?

Not necessarily.

While the 1990’s and 2000’s may have represented great growth for the sports radio format and created a dominant place at the table for networks on local radio station’s, the 2010’s have seen sports audio become an even bigger juggernaut, and the focus has become reach and distribution rather than local market clearance.

espnappFor instance, ESPN Radio is streamed on ESPNRadio.com and the ESPN Radio app. It’s also be heard on Slacker, Tune-In, SiriusXM, Google Play, iTunes and numerous radio stations across America, not to mention it can be watched on ESPN-2, ESPN-U and ESPN News.

It’s a big reason why the company shifted their focus from positioning themselves as ESPN Radio to ESPN Audio, and given the reach and power of the brand, it was a smart strategy.

In an interview in March, ESPN Audio boss Traug Keller told Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch that ESPN Radio had twenty million people per week listening to their content. The product was being received on more than five hundred radio affiliates, three of which were owned and operated radio stations, and as a whole the ESPN Radio brand was serving over sixty percent of the population who listen to sports radio.

Those numbers are staggering and very impressive.

Now logic would tell us that with Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt gone from the network, those numbers will likely drop, but that doesn’t mean the numbers won’t rebound once permanent replacements of those timeslots are announced.

eisenSwitch sides to Fox Sports and you can find their programming also available on local stations and their website but they also add the power of being heard on the iHeart Radio app, watched on Fox Sports 1, DirecTV and YouTube and consumed on SiriusXM, iTunes, Tune-In and the Podcast One network.

For CBS the story is very similar. They provide their audio content on their website, local radio stations, the Radio.com app, the Play It podcast network, Tune-In and the CBS Sports Television Network.

So if these national brands have instant credibility with sports fans and talented and recognized personalities delivering quality topical content, than why are local operators dropping them in favor of local programming?

nielsenIt’s all about the ratings and national programming doesn’t deliver them in my market” said a local program director I spoke with who oversees a station inside a top 20 market.

But with adding a local program comes added expense and as radio operators across the board trim budgets in an effort to stay profitable, how can added expenses make sense to the bottom line?

Yes there are risks involved by adding salary, but personality endorsements and appearances are in high demand and ratings are critical for radio stations to attract larger advertising dollars.” said a local market general manager. “While the quality of network programming is excellent and the personalities are good, we believe that local shows hosted by locally known personalities are worth the investment because they will provide more solutions for our clients and listeners which ultimately will help us be more profitable“.

While I don’t disagree with the viewpoints of the local operators I talked to, I do think one thing is definitely different and important to remember as we gauge the success of sports audio operators going forward – it’s not just about ratings anymore!

localIf you’re on a local level, your brand strategy is going to be built around delivering high local ratings and you’re going to want personalities in the local community who can advance the message of your station’s advertisers and connect with people at local appearances. From that standpoint, national programming doesn’t offer much appeal.

However, if you work on the network side of this business, your model for success isn’t measured by local market ratings. It’s based on total audience reach, platform distribution, advertising revenue and content creation.

rome2Do we really think a network like ESPN Radio or Fox Sports Radio isn’t successful just because they didn’t win a ratings battle in New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago? If they’re on television and every audio platform possible and reaching twenty million people per week, I’d say they’re delivering huge value for advertisers and clearly people do enjoy their content or they wouldn’t be accessing it thru multiple audio channels.

Yes it becomes harder to monetize due to the fact that the consumption of content is splintered between so many different audio avenues, and listening now has the on-demand element to deal with, but that’s the job of management and sales executives, to create their story and share it with advertisers and the people inside their own offices.

mm2If you’re an advertiser looking to get bang for your buck, you can’t deny that a show like “The Dan Patrick Show” or “Mike and Mike” doesn’t have huge reach and ability to move product. Between television, radio syndication, podcasting, their websites and social media promotion, people are consuming the content, which means they are also receiving the message.

Unfortunately, since we operate in a silo and use antiquated technology to gauge audience measurement, and we fail to include the total usage of users on all of these other platforms, many local and national brands are not receiving the credit they’re due for delivering record numbers of audience.

localrAs someone who’s programmed on the local level, I believe in delivering as much local content as possible. If my quarterly bonus and station’s ability to generate revenue are tied to our ability to superserve advertisers and local fans, then I want people on my airwaves who walk into the same building as I do, understand the station’s goals and possess the ability to get the job done.

While I enjoy the listening experience of some national shows, their personalities don’t live and die with the success or failure of my brand. Most don’t invest the time in interacting with their local affiliates either through calling in or making in-market appearances, and if they’re not going to share the same pain and joy in my company’s performance, then I can’t put my ass on the line for them when my future depends on it.

However, just because I have that point of view as it applies to running a local brand, doesn’t mean that national programming isn’t important, necessary and a huge success for the sports radio format. I often hear people in the industry discredit network shows because of the ratings factor, but there’s no question that we all know these brands, shows, personalities and the content they create. That has to count for something right?

onesizeWhat I believe it comes down to is this – success in the sports radio format isn’t a one size fits all formula anymore. It’s sort of like when a station celebrates delivering powerful Men 25-54 numbers but yet gets crushed on social media and in the industry trades because their 6+ numbers were low. If you can’t see the full story and you’re lacking information, it becomes harder to analyze and understand.

Every company has a different measurement for success. For some it’s about total audience, for others it’s about reach and distribution, other locations will have a stronger emphasis on digital, social and mobile activity and engagement, and for numerous traditional operators, it’s about local ratings.

While perception is often reality in this format, what gets lost is the understanding that we all operate in different spaces with very different goals and our ability to define success has become complicated due to the numerous avenues of distribution, the different ways to listen to audio and the inability of our industry to measure it as a whole.

wantHaving been on both sides of the fence (national and local), I see tremendous value to both approaches and business strategies and consumers are going to sample both, in multiple locations, and on the terms of when they feel like accessing it. It’s not a choice of one or the other, it’s a matter of being accessible and worthwhile when the user feels like sampling your material.

While we can all debate the benefits and disadvantages of local vs. national, I think we can all agree that we need to do a better job of defining success for our brands internally and sharing that success story externally. Who knows, by doing that we just might create a better perception of our format on the local and national level.

Barrett Blogs

John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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