The national sports network business has become very crowded over the past four years. But that hasn’t slowed down Harvard graduate and Yahoo Sports Radio CEO David Gow.
Based in Houston, Gow Media, is the lone independent sports radio network operator. In less than five years, the company has tripled its affiliate base, upgraded its lineup, and established a partnership with Yahoo, one of the world’s leading digital brands.
Those moves along with a few other sound investments have positioned the company well for the future. Just last week, the company confirmed plans to offer its programming in the Philadelphia area for the first time. With that addition, the network now reaches into seven of the Top 10 markets and can be heard in some shape or form on more than five hundred radio stations nationwide.
Critics will point out that the content featured on many affiliates aren’t the network’s top flight weekday programs, and the station’s which air the programming aren’t ratings leaders in their respective markets but Gow is not deterred by that.
He believes that all stations which clear his network offer value and he’s made it easier for them by not crippling them with rights fees and forced clearance of his weekday shows. He helps stations customize plans that satisfy their objectives, while finding ways to incorporate his own brand, its content, and its advertisers onto their airwaves.
The biggest challenge that most networks face is getting their programming cleared by local stations. Affiliate representatives will aggressively push their network’s weekday shows that air M-F between 6A-7P, but if that opportunity can’t be solidified, then the focus turns towards finding a way to gain entry onto the radio station.
Once a provider agrees to carry some of the network’s programming, it counts as an official affiliation. Why is that important? Because once an affiliation is secured, networks can list it and use it to their benefit when trying to secure business from national advertisers. The more stations and the bigger the markets, the larger the reach, which means more revenue.
To compete in the national space and gain local partnerships, David has had to be creative. In 2012 he purchased “The Sports Flash Radio Network” and it’s since become a part of Yahoo Sports Radio’s programming strategy. The network creates custom sports updates for local sports stations and in turn it helps them enter markets that don’t carry their long form content.
The network also cuts deals with operators who express interest in nights/overnights/weekend programming and/or appearances from Yahoo contributors on their local shows. By offering flexibility, Gow is proving to local groups that he’s invested in their success, and not trying to compromise their ability to run their radio stations effectively.
What makes their approach unique during the prime hours of weekday programming is that unlike ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and CBS Sports Radio, Yahoo’s weekday programming is built around four local market shows. That design has led to daily clearance in Washington DC, Charlotte, NC, Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, and Houston, TX, the cities which their key talk shows originate from.
Many industry people believe that five national sports networks can’t be sustained long term. I share that same opinion. But as I discovered during my fifty minute conversation with David Gow, if you’re betting on Yahoo Sports Radio to turn off the lights and call it a day, you’re going to be waiting for a while.
Here’s my conversation with Yahoo Sports Radio CEO David Gow. It covers everything from the start of his career, to the development of Yahoo Sports Radio, to lessons learned as a radio owner, to the challenges that lie ahead for each of his radio stations.
Q: How does a guy with a background as a corporate executive at Compaq and as CEO for Ashford.com wind up in the sports talk radio business?
A: I always loved the medium and was an avid listener and Houston sports fan. When we sold Ashford in 2002, I had a chance to evaluate what I wanted to do next and I knew that I wanted to work in a business that I was passionate about. As luck would have it, an opportunity became available to enter this industry, and it was one I was determined to be a part of.
Q: So you enter the industry in 2007 when you purchased KGOW 1560AM, a local Houston AM signal. Four years later you assume control of the Sporting News Radio network which puts you instantly onto 150+ radio stations nationwide. As someone who was brand new to the industry, and yet being presented with these incredible opportunities for expansion, how hard was it for you to find the right people to surround yourself with?
A: It was definitely a challenge to get the right team in place. Over the course of time we’ve had to make changes, but during the past 18 months I think we’ve assembled a talented team that is steering us in the right direction. We’ve grown our digital business significantly. Our sports updates business has expanded and become a valuable tool for our partners, and the distribution for our programs has attracted new markets and stations.
Q: I’ve talked to a lot of people about you, and the buzz words that follow are usually ‘high character guy, smart, likeable, loyal & willing to trust’. Those same positive qualities though may have worked against you early on. Were you too nice and too trusting when you were establishing the company?
A: There were people I depended upon early on who didn’t ultimately work out for us. The label “too nice” is interesting though because I do hold people accountable. I think that I’m fair and easy to work for if you’re taking care of your responsibilities and helping us grow the business.
A: We loved the Yahoo brand and the investments they were making into the sports world. Their position as a digital leader was very attractive to us and we felt that by partnering with them, it would position us strongly for the present and the future. We actually did look at alternative brands but there was nothing as compelling. Since forming the relationship it’s proven to be very strong and effective. We couldn’t be happier with the relationship.
Q: Industry folks may not realize this but since you entered the network business, you’ve experienced a lot of affiliate growth. What do you attribute it to?
A: We have grown our affiliates carrying our long form programming to 185, and we have about 385 brands carrying our sports updates. Our total amount of distribution is now over 550 stations. That’s something we are very proud of.
I believe a big part of why we’ve experienced growth is because we’ve made significant investments in talent. We hired Sean Salisbury, Steve Czaban, Steve Bunin, Travis Rodgers, Jeff Passan, Adrian Wojnarowski, and a number of other great talents, and we feel strongly about our product.
We have also worked hard to build relationships in the industry and develop partnerships that benefit us and our affiliates. We not only provide quality content to them but we also are fortunate to have talent working for us who understand the business. Many of them get involved to help our partners by calling into their local shows, speaking with their local advertisers, voicing local commercials, and assisting their needs.
Q: What was the best advice you were given about making the move into the national sports radio business?
A: In the network business, I have more constituents to be in conversation with than on the local end of the business. I was told long ago, “spend less time trying to advance your own agenda, and more time listening to the objectives of other people“. That advice has served me well.
Q: What’s been the toughest lesson you’ve learned?
A: The national sports radio landscape has been much tougher than we expected. The expansion of the format has tempered the growth for many of us and it’s forced us to look for new ways to expand our business. Digital is a much bigger priority now than ever before.
Q: From a strategic standpoint, the network features shows on the national stage that operate out of local markets. This approach has helped you gain daily clearance in some great locations including Los Angeles, Washington DC, Houston, Austin and Charlotte. Why do you believe this strategy is effective?
A: Although the shows originate from different places, we see them as national shows. Over the course of a 24/7 day, we present programs from many geographic areas. That gives us an advantage with how we reach and connect with our audience. It also serves our advertisers well because we’re able to place their products in front of sports fans all across the country, as well as in the digital space.
A: I do believe it is crowded but we are profitable, growing, and investing in this business. We won’t be letting people go this year, and we feel very bullish about our business.
Q: When it comes to business, how much does it matter to your advertisers that your prime content clears a local market station versus gaining spot clearance on a brand during a M-SU 6a-mid schedule?
A: There are different types of sales. There are some clients who will buy based on the network’s total audience reach. But there are also some who do want to attach themselves to talent and shows and see the programming clearing in larger markets. We need to be able to show those clients and affiliates how we perform by show and station, and we strive to be the user friendly network. We see ourselves as the partner who doesn’t burden the radio station with rights fees and forced bundling. We want to be the group that works with the local operator to enjoy shared success.
Q: On the local level, ESPN 97.5 became the 2nd highest rated station in the Houston market during the October book. What has changed to help the station gain bigger traction?
A: There are several factors. We added a little more content, and we’re now cross promoting the stations more. It’s about recycling the cume between both brands. We also switched John Granato and Steve Bunin, two moves that we believe have benefitted them both. The brand sounds great, and is comprised of some very strong talent, and with more consistency and some smart additions, we’re now seeing better results.
Q: Are there plans in the future to make a bigger run at the local play by play rights for the Houston market teams?
A: We presently carry the Houston Dynamo, our local soccer team, and I’d love to be a partner of the Astros and Rockets. The Texans recently signed a long-term deal with their current partner. We believe we provide something unique and attractive in the sense that we can offer local teams the support on both AM and FM, while combining it with the promotion of a national network to make their stories an even bigger focus for sports fans around the country.
Q: Looking to the future, what are your objectives and goals for ESPN 97.5 and the Yahoo Sports Radio Network?
A: We believe we’re going to win the digital landscape. Some of the other brands have TV relationships that are important to them, and we have a digital partner that is a leader in the online space. We recently launched PodcastArena.com and since mid-August we’ve had 4.6 million listens. That number is growing by leaps and bounds.
We’ve also started taking our shows and editing the best parts and making short form audio files available. Yahoo then uses content tags to place them into locations that have appeal to an individual’s preferences. That helps us expose our content to people who may not have been aware of it before.
Those two items alone are going to be significant components to our growth in the future and we’re excited about the possibilities and looking forward to building on the momentum we’ve created during the past five years.
For more information on Yahoo Sports Radio, visit their website by clicking here or follow them on Twitter by clicking here. You can also learn more about Gow Media’s local station ESPN 97.5 in Houston by clicking here.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Jonathan Zaslow No Longer With WQAM
An attempt to reach out to Zaslow for comment went unanswered.
WQAM midday host Jonathan Zaslow is no longer with WQAM in Miami.
The radio station has removed his show from the website and references to him and his normal 10a-2p ET midday timeslot program have been scrubbed from the station website.
Zaslow tweeted at 5:19p ET confirming the news.
Whether or not this has any effect on his involvement with the Miami Heat broadcasts is unknown as of now.
Zaslow had been with 790 the Ticket since 2004. He was transitioned from Audacy-owned 790 to sister station AM 560 Sports WQAM last October. During his tenure he has worked with a number of established local voices including Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, Brett Romberg, and Brendan Tobin amongst others.
WQAM has gone thru a number of changes, including a rebranding effort to call the station “560 The Joe”. That ended last year with the station returning to the AM 560 Sports WQAM brand listeners were more familiar with. What they have planned next in Zaslow’s timeslot is unclear but local listeners will likely get some answers next week.
Vanessa Richardson Named Houston Rockets Sideline Reporter, Paul Gallant to Host Solo on ESPN 97.5
Vanessa Richardson will be on the sidelines for the Houston Rockets and Paul Gallant will host solo show on ESPN 97.5.
Changes are taking place in Houston sports media. First, the Houston Rockets will have a new television sideline reporter this season, and she’s a familiar name to Houston sports fans.
Vanessa Richardson, the now former co-host of ESPN 97.5’s Vanessa and Gallant, revealed that she will be on the sidelines for the NBA franchise covering the team for AT&T SportsNet Southwest.
She tweeted the news saying, “Elated to be the new Houston Rockets sideline reporter! I can’t wait to travel the country & share the stories of this dynamic team during 80+ games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I’ll continue to fill-in as a host/reporter for Astros broadcasts as well.”
Richardson’s co-host, Paul Gallant, tweeted that with Richardson leaving the show for the Rockets sideline gig, Vanessa and Gallant will become the Paul Gallant Show. The solo show led by Gallant begins Monday September 26th.
“We’re excited to have Paul host his own show”, said Todd Farquharson, General Manager of ESPN 97.5 & 92.5. “He’s super creative, energetic, and likeable. He’ll get the audience involved and have fun.”
Paul commented, “You know what I’ve always loved about sports talk radio? That it’s interactive. Whether through a phone call, text message, tweet or on Twitch, it’s the best place for sports fans to come together and celebrate…or vent. And that’s what The Paul Gallant Show is going to be…Houston’s platform to talk about its teams. THE most interactive sports talk show in Houston.”
Ken Carman: Al Michaels ‘Feels Untethered’ On Amazon Prime Video
“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”
The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. 92.3 The Fan morning host Ken Carman applauded Al Michaels for his performance during the presentation.
“Al Michaels feels untethered for the first time. He’s not network television anymore and he can say whatever he wants. We interviewed him on the pregame show and I was nervous,” Carman said.
“He’s a legend,” co-host Anthony Lima added.
During the final play of the game, the Steelers fumbled a lateral into the endzone which the Browns recovered to make the final score 29-17. Michaels said “that may be meaningful to some of you. And you know who I mean”, alluding to people who had placed wagers on the game.
Carman, who hosts two-hours of pre-game coverage on the Browns Radio Network, continued to discuss how nervous he was interviewing Michaels. He also discussed how impressive Amazon’s behind-the-scenes production was, pointing out the only football broadcast with more cameras is the Super Bowl. More than 400 people work behind the scenes for Amazon Prime Video.
“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”
Carman later said people angry that Michaels misspoke by saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame is “down I-71” instead of I-77 were unreasonable, and joked “Al Michaels hasn’t been on a highway in 20 years”.