In sports media circles it’s well documented that Jamie Horowitz is looking to turn Fox Sports 1 into an opinion driven programming network. He’s gone on the record numerous times stating that he’d like to add what he calls “opinionists” to his channel’s roster. Personalities such as Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, Clay Travis, and Nick Wright are fit that description.
Whether the vision and execution will work is yet to be determined, but what I appreciate about Horowitz’s strategy is that he’s aiming to develop his network as the place to turn to for the opinion leaders in sports media. So much of today’s sports content is built from reaction to what unfolds in sporting events, and commentaries made by those playing or talking about sports, so choosing to build a brand around opinionated personalities and content isn’t a bad idea. Many have said he’s essentially taking sports talk radio and putting it on television.
When you look at how Fox Sports 1 stacks up presently, they’re way behind the worldwide leader in sports in many categories. Awareness, ratings, play by play deals, digital growth and even the size of the talent roster, all fall short of ESPN. They’re also nearly forty years behind in terms of branding, comfortability, and dependability with the audience.
To turn the tide in their favor it’ll likely take a decade or more, and that’s assuming they continue to make major improvements. The process will be long, painful, emotionally exhausting, and it’ll require smart strategy, risk taking, change, and achievable short-term and long-term goals, and a firm commitment, and great amount of patience from the higher ups at Fox Sports.
Even then, the plan still may not work. But what will take place if they stay committed is the creation of a legitimate competitor, and a brand with an identity which differs from ESPN. That gives the viewer a choice when seeking sports programming.
The reason I’m interested in their approach is because I see them seizing one part of ESPN’s identity, and looking to build their own empire around it. For sports fans, ESPN represents multiple things. They offer an abundance of play by play, SportsCenter, high level reporting, opinion driven programs, documentaries, and a collection of high profile personalities. It’s their mission to serve sports fans everywhere, and venture into all areas of sports programming, not necessarily focus on one particular area.
By placing less focus on highlight shows, documentaries, and reporting, Fox Sports is putting all of their eggs in the opinion basket. In doing so, they’re hoping to establish an identity, and generate enough traction to put themselves in position in the future to consider adding other elements to that strategy.
Which brings me to the radio industry. If there’s one area where the business underperforms, it’s in creating the next big trends in original programming. From digital to podcasting to ratings measurement, and other areas, staying ahead of the curve has never been radio’s strong suit.
Today, if you turn on your television, you’ll find a strong supply of sports programming options. Channels such as ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, SEC Network, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, NBC Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, and the NHL Network all have something for you to enjoy. I didn’t even mention all of the regional sports programming channels, TNT’s select coverage, the Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, beIN Sports, Pac-12 and Big Ten Networks, or the slew of others.
When you examine the digital space, another wide variety of options exists. If you’re in the mood to read sports content, ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report, Vice Sports, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News are available. If those brands don’t meet your needs, each sports league, and every single team in collegiate and professional sports has their own website. There are even other smaller sites which are built around specific sports, leagues, local regions, and personalities.
In sports radio, we find nearly eight hundred stations offering sports content. The majority of the formats though are similar. Brands are often attached to one of six national networks (ESPN, CBS, NBC, FOX, Yahoo, ESPN Deportes), and a large number use the same brand names, voice talent, and programming strategies.
Some of these stations will rely on their network associations to identify their brand. Other local talkers use monikers such as The Fan, The Ticket, The Game, The Score, The Zone, or The Team. The only things major differences are the personalities, content focus, network affiliations, and play by play associations. Even then, the content on these stations revolves around all-sports talk programming targeted towards each market’s local teams, and the biggest national stories making news.
We could debate station names, network associations, and the way many brands implement similar sounds and strategies, but I want to shine the light on a bigger issue – a lack of choice and originality for local audiences.
If you look at the top 25 markets, you’ll find a minimum of two sports stations offered in each city. In many cases, there are three or four radio stations offering sports talk programming. In nearly every one of these situations, each station provides all-sports programming. This means that the topics are driven by the news and results produced by the area’s local teams. Big national stories also warrant discussion.
Take for example the cities Denver, Houston, Miami and Portland. They each have at least four stations offering sports programming. Aside from offering different local shows, and on-air talent, and entering into business with different national sports networks, much of what they provide in terms of content is the same.
Sandwiched around their network hours are local programs which talk about the local market’s teams, take calls, interview guests, and possibly offer play by play of local or national games. They even provide sports updates two or three times per hour.
When the ratings and revenue are taken into account, some of these brands perform well. Others fall far below the mendoza line. For those that don’t pull their weight, they’ll either invest less, change the talent, or entertain a format change to something non-sports related. The one thing they rarely consider is a different way to present sports programming.
I want you to place yourself in the position of an owner of the third or fourth best performing sports station in a marketplace. If your competitors have a dedicated audience, strong ratings, and high revenues, do you honestly believe you’re going to make inroads by doing the same thing they do? Here let me save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation, you won’t.
So what can you do? How about doing some research in your market, discovering what matters most to people, and then creating a different form of sports programming?
Sports radio doesn’t have to consist of all-sports focused shows on radio stations which feature a mix of local and national content. It also doesn’t have to feature sports updates, personalities from the same walks of life, or the same voices and sounds that we’ve grown accustomed to.
This isn’t to suggest that you’re going to become the market’s leader by introducing a different version of the format, but if you want to create an identity, separate yourself from the competition, and help your ratings and revenue, sometimes being bold, and original pays off.
As you scroll through some of these possibilities, remember that they may work in some locations, but not in others. For example, a college sports radio network may be well received in the southeast, but not up north. This is where research comes into play. If you analyze the makeup of people in your city, and tap into their passions for specific sports, teams, people, and content, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance. That can be the difference between staying afloat, or sinking.
College Sports Programming Network: SiriusXM has done this incredibly well, and we’ve seen the same occur on television with the launch of the SEC Network, ESPNU, Pac-12 and Big Ten Network, and many others. So why hasn’t the format been offered by terrestrial radio?
Is it not possible for a company to create it and offer it to a number of stations in markets where the programming has mass appeal? Don’t you think local radio companies in college towns would have an interest?
If a group launched an all-college sports programming network, and partnered with a company like Learfield, IMG, or Westwood One to add college play by play to the mix, they’d have the ability to stand out in a number of locations. The focus would primarily be placed on football, and basketball. Other exceptions may be worth considering from time to time.
The right cities, towns, and regions have to be considered, and local operators have to be open to changing network affiliations, but if ratings and revenues aren’t high, that becomes a much easier conversation.
Hispanic Sports Programming Network: This is an area that even the television industry should be taking a closer look at. First of all, there are over three hundred and fifteen million people in the United States. Caucasians are the largest group of people, but Hispanics now represent 15% of the total population. That makes them the second largest race in our country.
When you look at states like New York, California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, the percentages rise to well above 25%. In major cities it’s an even bigger deal. For example, Miami is 51%, Los Angeles 43%, Houston 34%, San Diego 31%, and New York City is 24%. Other major cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, and San Francisco are all above 20%.
These aren’t just some of the largest markets in America, they’re also the locations where most of the nation’s advertising gets done. Buyers realize that the Hispanic population is rapidly growing, and selling products has to extend beyond Caucasian males and females.
Rather than introduce the seventh or eighth sports television channel or launch another sports radio station which does the same exact thing, how about building a programming around Hispanic talent? I’m not suggesting either that the content be presented in Spanish. It would be delivered in English by a station comprised of Hispanic personalities.
Many in our industry label Los Angeles, Miami and Houston as weak sports markets, yet each of them are heavily Hispanic and under represented on the local airwaves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that connecting to that audience in each of those cities is important. If done right, it could produce great results. Some will suggest that it won’t, but until I see someone try and fail, I remain optimistic about the idea.
Black Sports Programming Network: Similar to the Hispanic programming idea, African Americans are also under represented, especially on sports radio. In television, we have channels like BET which cater to the African American viewer. In radio, multiple companies have launched urban brands which have been well received by predominantly black audiences. Urban sports for some reason hasn’t been considered, at least not on-air.
In the digital space, The Undefeated was launched by ESPN. Another website Black Sports Online operated by Robert Littal has also entered the fray.
But why hasn’t radio examined the possibility? It can’t be for a lack of options. Personalities like Stephen A. Smith, Michael Smith, Jemele Hill, Stuart Scott, Jason Whitlock, and Michael Strahan have proven they can shine on the national stage, and local talents such as The 2 Live Stews, Michael Holley, and Terry Foster have demonstrated they can be difference makers too.
So why not explore it further?
According to the U.S Census Bureau, in Washington DC, African Americans outrank Caucasians 48% to 36%. In states like Mississippi, and Georgia, blacks represent 31% of the population. In Maryland it’s 29%, and in South Carolina, and Alabama, the number stands at 27%.
I’m not suggesting that a network or locally programmed station featuring all black personalities would play in every part of the country, but I challenge you to show me proof of why it wouldn’t work in some of these locations. I can find local brands built around network programming in many of these towns that don’t deliver a big number, yet an idea like this isn’t even considered, even though the statistical data suggests it’d be worth discussing.
Team Centered Sports Radio Stations: We’ve seen a few teams own radio stations, and face backlash because their content is viewed as being team controlled. But what if an independently owned radio station chose to brand themselves around a local team, and focus their entire content presentation around them? Would it be different?
Some stations seek to be everything to everyone, rather than tapping into the one or two teams that matter most. Imagine if you ran a third sports station in New York. If you went up against WFAN, and ESPN NY, and offered the same strategy that they do with different talent, you’d get killed. But if you positioned yourself as the New York Football Network, that would at least peak the curiosity of local football fans.
Using that approach, all of your shows would be built around the Giants, and Jets, and the rest of the NFL. Your talent roster would feature people who were recognizable to New York football fans, and had strong knowledge and passion to discuss the sport. You could even supplement your coverage by adding Monday, Thursday, and Sunday night football, or aim to pry away the rights to one of the market’s two local teams when their deals expired.
This isn’t just a New York idea either. If you were running the third or fourth station in another market, and a local team had a stranglehold on local audience and advertiser interest, connecting your brand to them would be wise. Teams love being the center of attention, and certain ones carry such prestige with the audience that it’s impossible to deny the value of being connected to them.
If your radio station was built around non-stop Lakers in Los Angeles, 24/7 Cowboys in Dallas, or all access Giants in San Francisco, you’d be further ahead than you would by positioning yourself as the third or fourth all-sports programming alternative. Would there be periods of the year when your station isn’t a destination? Yes. But, when you add it all up, you’d have many more months of strong listenership, and a unique identity in the marketplace. The brands sitting on top would definitely be aware of your presence.
Action Sports Programming Network: Imagine if a channel was built around the UFC, Boxing, and Pro Wrestling. Your immediate reaction is to tell me that it’d be too niche. A format like that would only make sense for SiriusXM or on a podcasting platform. And therein lies one of radio’s massive problems. It operates inside of the same box too frequently.
Did you know that of the top 50 podcasts in sports and leisure, 11 of them are either wrestling, or mixed martial arts related? Did you know that over one million people subscribe to the WWE Network? How about the pay per view business, what brings in its largest revenues? That would be Boxing, and the UFC.
Do you think the UFC, WWE, and Boxing world don’t attract advertisers, audiences, or ratings? On a weekly basis, the WWE is watched by three to four million people on Monday night’s and a few million more on Thursday’s. They also reach younger audiences which is why ESPN entered into a partnership with Vince McMahon’s company. I’m not even taking into account the audiences which watch other wrestling promotions on television.
Would this type of format work everywhere? No. Is it built better for SiriusXM than others? Probably. But would it not have appeal in certain local cities? That one we can debate.
How many local stations do we see across this country deliver weak ratings, little revenue, and offer the same exact strategy as the competition, only not as good? It happens more than you may realize. If a station or network was built around personalities like Jay Glazer, Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg, Teddy Atlas, Chuck Liddell, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Jim Ross, it would have appeal.
Audiences are already seeking out the content. If radio made it easier to hear and find, some cities might just surprise you with their level of interest in the programming.
Bye Bye Sports Updates, Hello NFL Reports: The NFL is now a twelve month, three hundred sixty five days per year sport. It’s the number one subject that audiences crave, and it stretches beyond local borders. Ratings, and rights fees are at record highs, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. It’s why sports radio loves the fall, and dreads other parts of the calendar year.
In 2016, sports fans seek out information by reading multiple websites, and following specific brands and people on social media. If you think you’re giving them something they don’t know in a sports update by pointing out when your local team’s game airs later that evening or what happened the night before, you’re simply insulting their intelligence. That’s the classic case of doing updates the way they’ve always been done.
I should point out that I don’t believe sports stations need to air three updates per hour. I’m not sure they’re even needed. I love the addition of an extra voice, and I see value in using audio to redirect the audience back to your website to listen to a podcast, or piece of content from another show, but game previews, recaps, and scoring updates are a waste of air time.
However, what is undisputable, is that sports radio listeners love football. Having three to four minutes per hour to use on your airwaves for updates can be worthwhile if the content is branded, and presented around the NFL. If a station were to switch their SportsCenter, Sport Flash or Sports Update, to NFL reports, I believe the interest level would increase.
First of all, the audience is aware of local sports issues, and the bigger national stories. They aren’t always aware of what’s being discussed in other cities in print and on sports radio. If you can gather good football related audio or written stories from other areas, and present something different than what the on-air host is providing, they’ll gain value from your reports.
One thing we know about football fans, they want to be informed, or given insight that will help them with their fantasy team or upcoming bets. If you’re going to remove two to three minutes per hour from your top talent to air a sports update, it better be news that your audience can use. Football content gives you that.
Facebook Live Programming Opportunities: Sports fans are voyeurs. They love video. They’ll even watch it online without the sound. They tune in for simulcasts of a local radio show on television. They eavesdrop on personalities who broadcast on Periscope. Now with Facebook Live available, it’s become an even bigger sensation.
So how do you take advantage of it?
If you’re programming a sports radio station, have you considered conducting video chats with your audience to discuss things taking place on your airwaves? If you’re a host, are you utilizing it before or after your show? How much more invested would your audience be in the current day’s show, if an hour before you hit the airwaves, they had an opportunity to share feedback with you on something you were considering doing that day but weren’t sure about? What if your show meeting was captured on it?
Maybe your brand has a deal with a local player to call-in weekly during the season, and as part of your next agreement, it includes one in-studio visit to one of your shows, and a separate 15-minute video chat with your audience. Players and agents are usually receptive, especially when they’re being compensated and given a platform to extend their brand. You might even offer to do the chat on their turf or an area of their choosing that would make the experience unique for the audience.
The world lives on Facebook. It’s your responsibility to figure out how to utilize it to your advantage. Between the airwaves, your website, email distribution, text message pushes, and social media, the opportunity to draw people to your Facebook Live video offerings is easy.
Remember this, every single thing you do in life now is a potential video moment. Every relationship you create and develop, possesses video potential. The more you dive in, and present yourself, the brand, and those you interact with in a strong light, and the more unique experiences you create in the space, the more attached your audience will become.
I could spend another thousand words explaining why an all-female sports programming network on television would have appeal. Why a network built around the greatest games in sports history would generate interest. How sports documentaries could be created for radio and turned into compelling programming. Or why a Spanish sports podcasting platform would draw an audience. But I think I’ve given you enough to chew on at this point.
I’m not going to predict that every one of these ideas will work. If introduced properly, offered in the right locations, and given reasonable goals and time to connect, they could. In the wrong places, with inferior talent, and run by groups expecting instant gratification, they’d fail.
It’s easy to debate what would or wouldn’t work, but the challenge is to continue thinking of different concepts, researching your market, and focusing your product strategy on what matters most to the people in your region. There’s no reason why we should consider ourselves restricted in this format. Music formats have discovered ways to create extensions of their formats, and sports can do the same. Given the results of some brands, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be testing more ideas.
Those that take the risk, not only will be trendsetters, but they’ll create additional buzz, and give themselves an opportunity to enjoy better ratings and revenue success. They’d also add some spice to a format that’s built on predictability, and either lacks the imagination to create new ideas, or fears the consequences of what might transpire if they installed them.
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.