One of my favorite moments of each year’s NFL and NBA Draft’s are when the commissioner hits the stage and announces the following words – “We have a Trade”. The second that message is communicated to the audience, everyone starts freaking out. Some get visibly upset, and others start cheering without having any idea what’s actually transpired.
The questions then start circulating. Who’s being dealt? What are they getting back? Is it a superstar player from another team? How will this impact my team and the rest of the league?
It’s quite comical watching people immediately overreact, and often what follows is nothing significant or a move which can’t even be judged s a success or failure for the next two or three years. But in this instant gratification society that we live in this is how things go.
It’s no different in the world of radio. Let’s rewind to three weeks ago when the biggest story in radio hit the trades – “Entercom and CBS have announced a merger”.
Right after the news broke, there were folks on social media assuming the worst and talking on the floor at radio row about the likelihood of needing to find a new job. Rather than absorbing the information, researching the company, and talking to others about what to expect, it became a classic case of “the sky is falling and we’re all doomed”.
If you’ve seen the movie “Captain Phillips” then you’ll likely remember the numerous instances when Barkhad Abdi tells Tom Hanks “Relax Irish. Everything is going to be ok”. And that’s exactly my message to you if you work in this industry, especially if you’re involved with a sports radio brand which now falls under Entercom’s watch.
It’s understandable to question where one fits into the big picture of a new company’s plan, but there is something called due process. People foolishly assume that they’ll go to work the next day and find the grim reaper lingering outside of their cubicle or studio, rather than focusing their time and energies on the tasks at hand. If you concentrate on generating results and revenue, and limit the noise, drama, and distractions around you, you’ll often find your job stability isn’t in question, even during times of change.
As it pertains to this specific situation, the first thing to point out is that a merger takes a while to complete. This isn’t a case where the news gets announced and the following day the new company dives into action and chops off the heads of 1000 employees.
Secondly, if a company is going to invest nearly two billion dollars (stock still counts) in taking over an organization, they’re doing so because they see value in it. Companies usually retain the majority of those who perform well and help the company’s bottom line.
Third, while the immediate reaction of employees is to scrutinize the new company acquiring them, they lose sight of the message being relayed by their previous employer. In this case it was loud and clear, CBS did not believe radio was important to their future.
For decades CBS has been an excellent company, one of the best in radio broadcasting. But their priorities and interests changed. A loyal employee is entitled to feel saddened by the reality that the organization they gave years of their life to is going in a new direction, but while they reminisce about the god old days and assume the worst of what’s ahead, they lose sight of the bigger message. In this case it was cut and dry, CBS didn’t want to be part of their radio future, Entercom did.
I don’t have access to the thoughts that run thru Les Moonves’ mind, but if he felt CBS’ growth potential was stronger by breaking away from radio, and turning the business over to Entercom, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a business decision, plain and simple, and CBS will be just fine as a company without radio.
I just never understood why the group making the investment becomes the one placed under fire and the one selling off is seen as the darling of the transaction. It’s likely due to the concerns of consolidation taking place in the future, but as I said earlier, performers often are retained, and if not, other broadcast groups will be in hot pursuit of an individual’s services if they feel they can make money with them.
So how does this impact the future of sports radio? I think it couldn’t possibly be better.
No disrespect to Cumulus or iHeart, but aside from CBS, Entercom has been one of the best at operating the sports radio format. In most cases they employ a live and local strategy on their stations and carry local play by play rights. That approach has placed them either in the driver’s seat or in striking distance of the top spot in numerous markets.
The reason Entercom is a significant player in the format is because CEO David Field, COO Weezie Kramer, and President of Programming Pat Paxton have a strong passion for it. They believe in the programming, the way it connects with targeted audiences, and understand the attraction it has to advertisers. They also recognize the power of play by play and are always at the table negotiating when opportunities arise to help their local sports radio brands.
Having had the benefit of working for them, I can tell you that they get involved with local leadership to help each brand prosper. I especially valued and appreciated how they gave their leaders a voice in the room, and were willing to make additional investments and support decisions that they may have been on the fence about if the acting PD and/or GM could make a strong case for it. I don’t know many companies who’s CEO takes the time during a market visit to personally sit down with a programmer and seek their input in trying to make a radio station better, but that’s what you get with David Field.
Once the merger is completed, Entercom will become the dominant force in sports radio programming. They will oversee the biggest local brands in the format, plus assume control of the CBS Sports Radio Network. The company could choose to give the network a much needed jolt to become a bigger national player or if they feel the network’s upside is limited they could elect to focus those resources in other areas.
If you look back at the company’s 2016 performance, Entercom was up in each quarter. Their stock price also grew from $11.23 per share on January 1, 2016 to $15.30 per share on December 31, 2016. Consider that during this same period of time, other groups were clinging to their stocks remaining listed and battling to avoid bankruptcy.
CBS during that period also remained a solid performer but once again, the company was on the record saying they wanted to exit the radio business. That isn’t a good long-term recipe for gaining confidence from advertisers, employees, business partners, and stockholders.
Although there are many positives to look at, don’t forget that this merger isn’t finalized yet. There will be more transactions completed before we know what the entire big picture for the company looks like. Entercom will have a few markets where they’ll be over the limit of how many stations they can own and operate, which means they’ll have to either sell or trade off some of those stations. They’ll also have to decide during the process which brands they want to retain and which ones they’ll part with.
Case in point, in Boston, the company will have two of the most dominant sports stations in the country, WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Collectively they reach 25% of the male demo in the market. The first reaction from many was “they can’t possibly operate both sports radio brands”. My response, “why not”?
Nobody bats an eye when a company has two music stations or news/talk stations, so why is it not possible to operate two dominant sports brands? If the stations are generating revenue and ratings, and possess the radio rights to every professional and collegiate sports team in the market, why wouldn’t that be attractive to hold on to?
I have no idea if that will wind up being the case or not, and the same questions will come up in Miami and Sacramento where they now have two sports radio stations, but from where I sit, that’s a great problem for Entercom to have.
To paint a picture of where the company will sit in the sports radio space after this merger, assuming no additional sports stations get added to their portfolio, check this out.
The company also operates a few other AM sports talkers which primarily feature network programming, and as impressive as all of these brands and markets are, now add the following list of play by play partnerships below into the mix.
That’s a total of 45 play by play partnerships, and that doesn’t include college sports. The company also has some of those relationships too, including the rights to some prestigious schools such as North Carolina, Michigan, Miami, Kansas, LSU and a few others.
Depending on the language in each contract, some teams may have an opportunity to pull their rights from their current radio stations, and re-open the local bidding due to the merger. Given though the company’s increased power in the sports format, and its commitment to doing business with professional sports teams, I’d expect most franchises will want to remain in their current situations, especially if local business is strong.
When you analyze the way the company looks on paper, assuming the merger goes thru without any drastic changes, it is extremely impressive, and puts Entercom at the top of the sports radio empire. If you’re a market manager, host, producer, programmer, sales manager, account executive or imaging director with a passion for sports radio, this becomes the company you want to work for. If you’re an advertiser, there isn’t a group with more attractive sports assets, markets and brands who can put your message in front of the right audience on a local and national scale.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but for the health of the sports format, and for the radio business as a whole, I think this is wonderful news. I don’t often say that when one radio company expands, and another is eliminated, but my personal history with Entercom gives me great confidence that they’ll execute in superb fashion.
Now it’s up to the company’s leaders, and every employee entering the workplace to deliver results, and use the momentum of this merger to help sports radio gain a much bigger piece of the pie. I look forward to seeing how it all comes together over the next few years.
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.