“Stick to Sports”, “This is supposed to be a sports station”, “I don’t care what you think about anything other than sports”. If you’ve worked in this industry long enough and struck a chord with an audience, you’ve likely heard these complaints. The second your content explores new territory, critics are waiting to stone you to death for committing the cardinal sin of discussing something other than the almighty world of sports.
And that’s where things get sticky.
On one hand, you have your program director and upper management telling you “be yourself, share your life on the radio, have an opinion on everything you talk about, take risks and be fearless”. When you mention your disdain for local traffic, nobody complains. If you bring up your favorite movies or meals, many engage with you via text, tweets or Facebook. Spend time discussing music, issues with your co-workers, or problems with your significant other, and many laugh and take no offense. But the second you dive into a conversation about race, religion or politics, you’re being given the stink eye by your audience and select members of your company.
So what are you supposed to do?
Well, you could stick to sports and brand yourself that way. It is after all why your audience tuned into your station in the first place. If you’re insightful, opinionated and entertaining, and interested in your local teams and players, people will listen.
But then there’s the counterpoint to that argument – most sports stations don’t pop huge numbers by focusing solely on sports. The ones that do usually win because they expand their conversations into other areas or they have a play by play partnership pouring in huge cume.
We’re living in a very different time. Sports talk has changed dramatically over the past decade. Today we are much more fascinated by what happens outside the lines rather than what unfolds inside of them. It’s why I preach the importance of finding the drama in the content and having strong opinions to go with it.
Is that good or bad? That depends on a listener’s taste and each host’s preference. We love the NFL because our teams play once a week. We get invested in the MLB, NBA and NHL playoffs because the result determines whether a team advances or goes home. But when games are played daily for a period of 80-162 games, we become less interested. Unless of course it involves a protest by an athlete, a key injury that could derail a team’s season, a blown call by an official, a locker room altercation, a dustup between a reporter and manager or something else ‘juicy’ that we can sink our teeth into. Then we become vultures feasting on a carcass.
One could make the case that the format doesn’t have enough people on the air who truly love and care about sports. I hear it often “the game was boring”, “there’s only so many things you can say about this team”, “we have a four hour show, no way you can fill that amount of time just talking about sports”. But if you’re hosting a show on a sports station, shouldn’t you have an interest in the number one word associated with your business – sports? You don’t turn on a music station expecting to hear a DJ who doesn’t care about music or a News/Talk station expecting to hear a personality who isn’t interested in politics and news.
Case in point, the New York Giants defeated the Baltimore Ravens 27-23 this past Sunday. In that game, Odell Beckham caught 8 passes for 222 yards and 2 TD’s, including the game winner. Ten years ago, a Monday in New York would have examined Beckham’s big day and focus on whether or not he had become the face of the Giants above Eli Manning, if Big Blue could win a championship with a wide receiver being their best player, how Odell measured up to the league’s best wide receivers, etc.
Instead, the majority of the on-air content I heard centered around his decision to pull his helmet off after the touchdown costing the Giants a key penalty, and whether or not his antics and bizarre behavior could be controlled. Beckham’s stats were spectacular and the win was a needed one for the Giants but the conflict in that topic was much less compelling than Beckham’s on the field behavior. Simply put, the latter angle produced more drama, which is what gets an audience more emotionally invested. That’s why it was the dominant storyline.
In most cases, sports stations target Men 25-54. The average listening age for many of these sports radio stations is between 38-48. Males in that age group need to be hooked by the content or they’re moving on to other things. They have jobs, families, responsibilities, and personal interests, and unless the content stirs their emotions, they’re likely to tune out.
The one subject that they can’t get enough of right now is the upcoming election. Why? It can potentially affect them and their families and we’re drawn to polarizing personalities.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the interest in this race for the white house is at an all-time high. Each debate has delivered a massive audience. So too did the primaries. Social media sharing of content related to the election is consistently at the top of the rankings, and whether you love or hate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, they’re magnets for controversy who we all have opinions on.
If this were four years ago when Romney and Obama were battling, the story would be very different. That race didn’t move us the way this one has. This is a trainwreck of epic proportions which the entire country is stopping by to see, and they’re getting out of their cars too to inspect the damage, ask questions and take photographs.
But what does that have to do with sports talk? The answer, nothing. But it matters greatly to Men 25-54 – your target audience.
And that’s the dilemma facing many brands.
Do you spend time addressing the topic that many of your target audience members are paying attention to? Or do you stick to your core focus even if it costs you in the ratings? Think you won’t be affected? Ask the NFL. Even the most powerful league in professional sports has felt the wrath of this election.
The other part of this that brands have to be conscious of is that the audience is connected to your talent in a much bigger way now than they were 10-20 years ago when individuals were warned to steer clear of certain content. Social media has created that change. Now, your most passionate fans follow your talent on multiple platforms. The second a host shares their beliefs on anything personal or unrelated to sports, it’s going to be remembered, shared, debated, supported, etc.
We can pretend that the airwaves are different than social media, but words and opinions stick. Just ask Donald Trump. If your talent are going to share their views on social media to thousands of your listeners, the audience is going to expect the same over the air. They may even tune in more or less because of it.
I’ve talked to a lot of people about this topic and there is no right or wrong answer because each market, station, and host is different. There will be some personalities on the air who never mention the election and if that’s what makes them comfortable then they should stick to that strategy. Others might spend larger portions of time discussing it and if it’s part of their personality I can easily understand the rationale in doing so. I can make a case for and against discussing the candidates and the current political climate but there are a few things that I believe are important for managers and talent to remember if going down this path:
- Consider who your talent are, what they do best, and how they measure up against your competition. If the station you’re battling isn’t discussing the election or latest news, and your guys can be compelling discussing it, it can be a positive. If sports is what your hosts do best and the political discussion doesn’t interest them or is an area where they’re uncomfortable, stay away from it.
- If you have someone on one of your show’s who’s strongly in favor of Trump or Hillary, make sure you have a counter to them on the same show. Political talk can be very divisive. It’s ok to be true to your core beliefs and stand up for one side but make sure the other side is also represented.
- Understand what’s topical and make it relatable. For example, this Thursday after the final debate, the subject matter is much more topical than this past Monday when nothing major took place in the political world and you had a slew of football and MLB playoff games to discuss. The week prior was different because of the Donald Trump leaked video/audio. What the audience isn’t tuning you in for are your thoughts on each candidate’s position on global warming or how to reduce the budget.
- If you’re instructing your talent throughout the year to share their lives with the audience, you’ve got to trust them with these topics too. You don’t put a UFC fighter in a cage and tell them to fight nicely, and you don’t tell a personality to open up themselves to the audience and have strong opinions on everything they discuss yet limit them when they’re interested in things you may not care for, especially when it’s a topic that they can generate bigger ratings from.
- The main reason the audience comes to you is for an escape from real life issues. Sports provides that. It’s ok to play in the “real life space” but don’t turn your entire show or the majority of your air time over to it. Get your fix, show your audience that you’re aware of what’s happening in the world and well rounded enough to discuss it, but remember what they come to you for first.
- This election is the world’s biggest wave. You’re a surfer living in the water waiting for that one big ride. The next month, it’ll be red hot and potentially beneficial. Once the President is chosen, move on. This is about seizing audience opportunity. Ride the wave, enjoy the benefits, and then get back to doing what you do best.
For those of you who are hosting or programming at a sports station let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Everyone has a job. Some are harder than others. Finding joy in discussing sports and getting paid to do it shouldn’t be problematic. The audience knows there will be times when you venture outside the sports arena. This election is one of those times where it can make business sense to do so. But remember how you formed a connection in the first place. It was through sports. That should be reason enough for you to show up each day with a smile and look forward to doing what you do best.
Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?
How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.
But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?
As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.
Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.
Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.
I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.
What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.
As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.
Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.
But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.
Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.
There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.
I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.
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.