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Picking Up The Pieces After a Devastating Setback

Jason Barrett

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On Tuesday night, the NFL owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to return to Los Angeles. Owner Stan Kroenke got his wish to bring football back to the nation’s 2nd largest market, and will now reap the financial benefits of a geographical change.

Although I’m excited for the people of Los Angeles to have an NFL team once again in their backyard, I’m sick to my stomach thinking about my friends in St. Louis who have now had the NFL punch them in the gut for the second time. St. Louisans invested themselves in supporting the team and its sponsors for the past 20 years, while raising their children to become fans of the team. But today they wake up to the reality that they’ll soon have no games to attend on Sunday when the next NFL season rolls around.

ramsGone are the hopes and dreams of experiencing future Super Bowl championship parades down Market Street. Businesses who count on the team’s Sunday crowds will now suffer from their departure, and politicians in the show-me state will now have to show they’re committed to not letting this moment define them and their city.

Was it right? No. Was it fair? Absolutely not. But as cold and harsh as that might be, the NFL is a business. We lose sight of that when these situations arise because we sink our heart and soul into these franchises, only to discover later that the only true attachment they want from us is the one that includes access to our bank accounts.

I have no issue whatsoever with Los Angeles having a team. The NFL definitely should have a franchise there, and those fans who lost their teams 20 years ago, didn’t deserve that pain either. But I don’t believe you set a good precedent when you destroy the lives of a few million people in one city to make the lives of a few million others in another city better.

stanIt’s even more baffling when you consider how calculated this move was. Stan Kroenke bought the Rams in 2010 after Georgia Frontiere passed away. He held a minority stake in the club at that time and Georgia’s family had an interested buyer in Shahid Khan (now the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars) who wanted to keep the team in St. Louis. Kroenke though exercised his right to match the bid and took over control of the franchise.

When he assumed control he said “I’ve been around St. Louis and Missouri a major portion of my life. I’ve never had any desire to lead the charge out of St. Louis. That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to work very hard and be successful in St. Louis.

But although that sounded good, his actions over the next 5+ years told a different story.

Kroenke started out by transferring his ownership of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets to his son Josh who was 30 years old at the time. That was the loophole he explored so he could become owner of the Rams and maintain ownership of his existing teams. If you think “Silent Stan” was suddenly washing his hands with all business related to those two franchises you’re kidding yourself. But on paper, he covered his tracks.

Then he explored trying to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. The winning bid went to Magic Johnson’s group but reports started to surface that Kroenke was interested in the Dodgers because he wanted to build his own media network, and after gaining the opportunity to move the Rams out of St. Louis and back to Los Angeles, offer their programming on a Kroenke owned channel.

This very model has been constructed in Denver with the addition of Altitude Sports. He’s also purchased a number of radio stations in Colorado and is expected to use one of those signals to further promote and sell content built around the Nuggets and Avalanche.

jeffAs Stan was investigating purchasing land and forging relationships with local politicians in California, the Rams product remained stagnant. He refused to show his face or speak publicly to calm the fears of local fans, and the only time he spoke on the record was when Jeff Fisher was hired as Head Coach. If you’re not looking to leave town, and ticket sales and advertising revenues are declining, you’d think it would make business sense to address the elephant in the room and help get your business back on track.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

In the NFL’s guidelines for relocation, it states that no team has an entitlement to relocate simply because it receives another opportunity to enhance club revenues in another location. Considering that St. Louis was the only one of the three cities with an actual stadium plan and commitment, it’s hard to understand how this relocation was anything but a money grab.

Roger Goodell and his people saw the dollar signs in Los Angeles along with a promise for a new home for their growing NFL Media empire and Stan was the guy with the deep pockets and huge grapefruits who was willing to turn his back on his home state to get it done. Jabs were thrown at the people in St. Louis for not offering more support, when in reality they were given every reason to not attach themselves to the team. Lost in all of this was the reality that the NFL saw Oakland and San Diego as being more lucrative.

rams2It’s easy for people in glass houses to throw stones and attack St. Louis fans for not attending games but when you’re handed a lemon of a product which delivers a 50-109-1 record over 10 years, and your owner won’t speak publicly about his intentions in your city, while he rubs elbows and furthers dialogue with Los Angeles leadership and explores every angle to leave (including attempting to break his lease to play more home games in London), it’s impossible to be supportive.

Bear in mind, the team didn’t reach the playoffs once during the previous 11 seasons, and if you look at their performance since Stan took over in 2010, they’re 36-59. They haven’t had one winning season under his ownership.

The issue here though was never about ticket sales. It was about the opportunity to increase his franchise value and own net worth by returning to Los Angeles. When you take into account the numerous business opportunities he gains from parking, to hotels, to restaurants, to higher rights deals, to possibly even gaining a tenant in the Chargers or Raiders, there’s a reason why Stan Kroenke is a multi-billionaire – he knows how to make money!

None the less, what’s done is done. The city of St. Louis and its great people will now have to pick themselves up off the ground, and decide how to repair the damage. One of my favorite quotes comes from William A. Ward and it says “Adversity causes some to break, others to break records“. St. Louis will have to decide if they’re going to let this moment break them, and if the past is any indication, I don’t believe they will.

So how does that translate to the sports media business? Here’s how.

stl2With the Rams leaving town, local people will further invest themselves in supporting the Cardinals and Blues. If you’re the team’s rights holders KMOX and Fox Sports Midwest, or any of the local sports stations (101 ESPN, CBS Sports 920, 590 The Fan KFNS), that’s good news. In moments like these, people tend to gravitate to those who love them back.

Because those other two local franchises have remained loyal and happy with their standing in the St. Louis community, I’d expect them both to benefit from it. Media outlets who put an even heavier focus into supporting them will be rewarded for it.

If you remember when the Los Angeles Angels announced they were signing Albert Pujols following the 2011 season, it was a dark day for St. Louis baseball fans. He was the face of the franchise, a good man, and he had won multiple MVP awards and a couple of World Series titles. His departure would’ve been the equivalent to New York losing Derek Jeter.

As painful and heartbreaking as it was for many, they stood behind their Cardinals. General Manager John Mozeliak went to work to rebuild the franchise, and as luck would have it, the Cardinals that season reached the playoffs and advanced to the NL Championship series where they lost in 7 games to the San Francisco Giants.

cardsMeanwhile, Pujols’ Angels didn’t reach the post-season that season and they’ve only done so once during his 4 years in the city of Angels. Their only October visit resulted in a three game sweep courtesy of the Kansas City Royals in the first round of Wildcard play in 2014. During that same period, the Cardinals have advanced to the post-season every year.

Another way I expect the city to rally is to further stand behind the media members of the community who stood up for them during this tumultuous time. Personalities like Bernie Miklasz, Randy Karraker, Kevin Wheeler, Frank Cusumano, Tim McKernan, and Howard Balzer have defended the local people and the city, while explaining why it remains vibrant and economically sound. They’ve not been afraid to challenge the NFL, its leaders and bylaws, and the Rams hierarchy, who were set on chasing the pot of gold that awaited them in Inglewood.

Today they may not feel their efforts made a difference because the team was given the green light to pack up and head West, but in taking the positions that they did, and putting every ounce of their energies into fighting for their team, city and people, they gained respect, and a deeper appreciation and loyalty from the local audience. That’s something that will mean much more down the road when they reflect back on who they were to their communities.

Anheuser-Busch headquartersNo matter how hollow the feeling might be, people in St. Louis will never forget how those media folks had their backs during the toughest of times. The one way fans can and will repay them, is by listening more to their shows, watching their TV programs, reading their website articles, and supporting their station’s advertisers. I’d also expect some local advertisers to ramp up their efforts and further invest in these people and brands because they recognize how important it is to do so during hard times like this.

One issue that will need to be examined over the next year or two is whether or not four sports stations and two News/Talk brands with sports content and relationships can turn a profit in Market #22. It’s one thing to fill the airwaves with sports programming, but it’s another to be a financial success. I’m not sure if there are enough advertising dollars in the market to support all of those brands. I certainly hope that there are but it’s not going to be easy.

The last side of this conversation that I want to focus on is how it will impact the ratings side of the business. It goes without saying that the loss of a football team usually means less audience and lesser interest in sports talk programming Monday-Friday. Stations may explore adding an NFL affiliation with another team such as the Bears, Chiefs, Colts or Titans, but that isn’t going to make up for the loss of a local team. I’m not even sure yet if a St. Louis sports fan is going to want to hear anything about the NFL next Fall. There are still a few months between now and then so we’ll have to see how the healing process plays out.

That said, if you look around the country, there are plenty of markets that thrive despite not having a football franchise. They pledge their support to NBA, NHL and MLB teams, and in some smaller cities, college sports drives heavy listening. None of us are nostradamus and can predict whether St. Louis will receive another NFL team or capture the interest of the NBA, but for now, the focus for brands who operate Sports and News/Talk programming has to revolve around the people, franchises and universities who remain committed to staying there.

1045Look at Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. All of those cities have 2 pro teams or less and when you combine their college programs, there are plenty of sports options for people to sink their teeth into. Stations like The Fan in Charlotte, Portland and Indianapolis, and The Zone in Nashville, perform very well despite not having either an MLB, NBA or NFL franchise. As a matter of fact, The Zone is one of the top rated sports talkers in the country.

However, there are less sports talk radio stations in those cities than there are in St. Louis. That’s something to be aware of.

As it applies to ratings and revenue, I’d rather lose 16 football games on Sunday than 162 regular season baseball games. Many of those games air M-F and can have a big impact on a station’s performance, depending of course on which team you’re aligned with.

Most radio operators prefer to feature their best talent M-F 6a-7p, and add play-by-play around them to provide a cume, marketing and advertiser boost. As long as lineups remain stable and of interest to the local market, there are plenty of other ways to add sponsor dollars, marketing awareness and cume increases.

rams3I’m not going to suggest that losing an NFL franchise doesn’t impact business. It definitely stings and will cause some of these brands to have to adjust their strategies and expectations. It also forces them to have to modify their image because you’re no longer a three sport town.

But if the things that matter most in our business are building and connecting with an audience, generating ratings, and utilizing high profile personalities, their ratings, and our access to people through our on-air, online, and social platforms to secure advertising dollars, then that still remains doable.

It may have to be done differently, and it will take time for the emotions to subside, but a media business in St. Louis can still prosper, and listeners will still seek out hearing local people talk about local sports subjects – with or without the Rams! Knowing the passion of those fans as I do, I expect them to become more supportive of the brands and people who remain there. If you don’t believe me, ask the Cardinals and Albert Pujols how this story ends. I’m sure they haven’t forgotten.

Barrett Blogs

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 Blogs

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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