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FOX Sports Creates a Stir With Its New Digital Strategy

Jason Barrett

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FOX Sports is under media attack after releasing a number of staffers from their digital department. The company is trying to modify its digital strategy and the new vision set by Jamie Horowitz has created a mixed response. Some who have lost jobs have taken to social media to express their gratitude or frustration towards the company, and others have talked off the record to Awful Announcing about their disgust with the company’s new approach.

If you haven’t read the piece that Ben Koo put together it’s worth your time. It highlights some of the internal disconnect that was taking place as departments clashed and tried to get a better handle on how to be more effective in the online space.

When I heard the piece was being produced by AA I expected it to carry a negative slant towards FOX Sports because the majority of content pieces about the company on AA lean in that direction. Some may still take exception to the piece and hint at Koo having an agenda, but I thought Ben did an excellent job and tried to be fair with his reporting. Maybe the article doesn’t project the best image for Horowitz but clearly some people inside of FOX Sports weren’t unified in the digital vision for the company.

As I digested the article, I came away with a few thoughts. Allow me to share them with you.

First, whether it was passed along from someone who was let go or from someone who presently works for FOX Sports, sharing private and sensitive information about a company’s strategy is weak. I’m not naive enough to think that leaking sensitive information doesn’t happen all the time, just look at the political world, but when trust doesn’t exist between management and its employees, it’s only a matter of time before changes occur.

I’m not privy to who did and didn’t get along inside of FOX Sports. If the emotions felt in the article though reflected what was being displayed behind closed doors, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Horowitz and his management team aren’t shedding tears over the loss of some talented people who didn’t share their same enthusiasm for FOX Sports’ online future. Those who departed are also probably glad to rid the turmoil from their lives and turn their time and energy to a new situation.

Second, anytime cuts take place it sucks. I don’t like seeing anyone in the industry lose an opportunity, but it’s a reality of the business we’ve chosen to work in. As I was sifting thru the comments online about the staff reductions I saw a few people point out how the people behind the scenes too often pay the price yet it should be the ones in front of the camera or microphone who suffer for a company’s failures.

I’ve been one of those guys behind the scenes. I loved producing and programming sports radio shows and stations, and without qualified, creative, hard working support players, the talent aren’t as crisp and the product isn’t as good.

But let’s not lose sight of what the public comes to a brand for most; the faces of the franchise.

When you buy an admission ticket to a movie theatre, you pay to see the actors. That doesn’t make the work done by writers, producers, camera operators or graphic artists any less important but without the stars, the film doesn’t put butts in seats.

The same formula exists in every other form of the entertainment business.

If you go to a concert to watch a band play live, the musicians get the credit. The road crew, manager, and sound guy might play a vital role in the production, and for their efforts they may receive a pat on the back and an invite to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after the show, but its the band who gains the limelight and all that’s associated with it.

Turn on a professional sporting event and the players on the court or field earn our admiration, while the ball boys, trainers, chefs, and members of the PR staff gain the occasional thank you and a paycheck on the 15th and 30th of the month. Those folks behind the scenes all play a part in making sure the athletes are taken care of to do what they do best, but the reason people pay high prices to watch a game is because of the players.

The next item which stood out, was Horowitz’s belief that putting the name of the network’s high profile television personalities behind written content was better for the overall ability to generate clicks and increase business. I’m not sure how anyone could find fault with that approach. If a column was produced by FOX Sports and had Skip Bayless’ name on it, it’s much more likely to generate a ton of activity than if the column had my name on it.

Pundits have been quick to pounce on FOX Sports for using ghost writers and pushing their personalities as the main attraction but are we really suggesting that featuring the company’s most recognized talent isn’t a bright idea? You may not like Cowherd, Bayless, Jason Whitlock or Shannon Sharpe but they are a lot more likely to generate a click and emotional connection to a piece of content than lesser known writers, reporters and behind the scenes people.

And do we really think ghostwriting doesn’t already occur? I was stunned by how many people took issue with this.

For example, I think The Player’s Tribune does a fantastic job with their website, but do you really think all of those athletes are sitting down to write columns? Not to mention, writing them as if they had spent 10-15 years in the print business?

Not a chance.

If the material is delivered by a recognizable public figure and a professional media member cleans it up and helps it look its best before clicking send to share it with the world, what’s the problem with that? It’s no different than what producers do on a daily basis to help great on-air talent create memorable on-air content. I’ve witnessed outstanding producers like Justin Craig, Paul Pabst and Ray Necci feed lines, facts, jokes and opinions to hosts to present on the air, and I’ve been in that exact position myself. The brains behind the operation are there to support the talent and it’s the host’s job to create, execute and be held accountable for it.

The final opinion I want to express may make a few people upset but it’s how I and many others in the media feel.

Raise your hand if you were visiting FOXSports.com on a daily basis. Now keep your hand up if you could name 4-5 things on FOX Sports’ website (not video related) worth clicking back for regularly.

Those of you who put your hands up, either stop lying or return to your cubicle inside of FOX Sports’ headquarters.

The majority of people I’ve talked to in this industry over the years would tell you that FOX Sports’ website was an afterthought. I don’t doubt that many inside the operation weren’t talented or working hard to make it better and I’m not suggesting that Jamie Horowitz’s commitment to pushing online video and eliminating written content is the holy grail of solutions. What I do know is that when I’ve talked to people about where they turn to for sports information, opinion, analysis, and entertainment, FOX Sports’ website was rarely in the conversation.

When you ask people about their preferred online sports destinations it’s common to hear them recall ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Others may list Barstool, The Ringer, The Player’s Tribune and Pro Football Talk, or local newspapers or league/team specific sites where they turn regularly. The majority of those brands thrive without the benefit of a television network promoting their digital content.

I remain a believer in the value of great written content, reporting and analysis but I can’t blame companies for shifting their position towards heavier video distribution if the public and advertising community places higher value on it. In business there’s an old saying “fish where the fish are” and whether it’s popular or not, FOX is trying to reverse its existing online position of being persona non grata and deliver a digital experience that generates more interest and revenue, while aligning their web focus with their television strategy.

In the AA column, Jamie said something during his presentation to staffers which I think is valid. He commented that “the written word is still relevant, but the advertising value of written content, what we call display, is not growing.”

Therein lies the struggle.

I love to read and visit many websites each day for quality written content, but let’s be honest, how much more likely are we to recall content, let alone an advertiser’s message, if we hear it in audio or see it in video? It takes much more work, time and focus to read and process written material, and it lacks the emotional connection that we gain when we watch or hear something. From a business standpoint, the placement of a client’s message at the top part of a website or in the middle of a written column doesn’t generate half the activity that those other options provide.

As I mentioned earlier, seeing good talented people lose employment opportunities isn’t fun, but we have to be mature enough to separate our feelings for individuals from what’s best for a brand’s business objectives. Anytime change takes place in our industry it’s met by immediate overreactions, yet people quickly forget the reality of the situation.

I realize the debate culture frustrates many sports media traditionalists, but national personalities with strong opinions produce interest. It’s why so many of you reading this column right now are able to recall every single smart and stupid thing uttered on the air by hosts like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd, etc.

I’m also aware that FOX has been pretty outspoken and cocky since arriving on the scene. For that reason alone, many in the industry want to see them fail. But whether they’re arrogant, smug, bullish or smart, the real question is whether or not FOX Sports was due for a digital makeover. If the existing strategy was thriving I don’t believe they’d be making wholesale changes.

It’s fair to question if our industry is devaluing intelligence and analysis in favor of sensationalism, but it’s hard to support that stance when the results show that people would prefer watching a LaVar Ball rant over reading an informed column from a top notch writer. It may frustrate those of us who love to read and write but from a business standpoint, if people are drawn to a car crash then it’s the brand’s job to produce more accidents.

As someone who runs a business, I’ve seen this firsthand. I can write a detailed analysis on a specific industry topic that should help an on-air talent or executive and it might generate a few thousand clicks. But if I create a top 10 list or a strong opinion piece on a polarizing show like First Take, it delivers 5-10x the amount of traffic. People may say they don’t prefer that style of content but their actions tell a different story.

Whether it’s popular or not, FOX Sports’ website hasn’t been great, and the brand’s digital content and social currency lagged behind its competitors. Maybe Jamie Horowitz’s digital video strategy will crash and burn, but I’m not going to act surprised or complain about a company taking a chance to reverse its digital irrelevance. It’s easy to be a face in the crowd and operate in the land of white noise, but instead FOX made a difficult choice and took a giant risk to increase their odds of success. In that respect I give them credit.

When a boat has a leak and the water is pouring in, you either abandon the ship or patch it up. FOX has done a ton of patch work over the years, and Horowitz decided it was time to jump aboard a different boat. That decision will either help him arrive safely on shore or sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Either way, it’ll be a journey worth following.

Barrett Blogs

Julie Talbott to Receive The Jeff Smulyan Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists.”

Jason Barrett

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Each year at the BSM Summit, we take time to recognize some of the true difference makers in the sports media industry. It’s become a special part of the event, and it reminds everyone in the room of what’s possible if you do your job well and create impact.

Four awards in total are presented over the two-day event thanks to our friends at Premiere Networks. Each award has a different focus.

The Jeff Smulyan Award is presented to a radio industry executive who has led by example, taken risks, produced results, and made a significant difference for the sports radio business. The Mark Chernoff Award is given to sports radio’s top programmer. The Mike and the Mad Dog Award is presented to the top local sports radio show in America. And The Champions Award along with a financial contribution from BSM is given to an industry member who has used their platform to make a difference for others.

Since we began taking the Summit live in 2019, Mitch Rosen and Rick Radzik have been recognized as winners of the Mark Chernoff Award. Adam Schefter and the team of Keith Murphy and Andy Fales have been recipients of the Champions Award. And the top rated combination of Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti received the first ever Mike and the Mad Dog Award at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC.

Which brings us to the Jeff Smulyan Award.

A number of top notch executives have joined us to accept this honor over the years. It started in Los Angeles with Kraig Kitchin, continued in New York City with Dan Mason, and then Traug Keller took home the honor during our last show, which also took place in the big apple.

As we looked to 2023, the goal was to identify someone who’s been active in growing their company’s footprint across the sports radio industry. Equally important was someone who has the full confidence and trust of their people, a track record of delivering results, and has uncovered new business opportunities to lead their company forward.

After a brief conversation, Jeff and I knew exactly who the right person was.

It is my honor to announce and congratulate Julie Talbott, President of Premiere Networks on being named our recipient of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Julie will be present in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC to accept the honor at the 2023 BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award – especially with Jeff Smulyan’s name associated with it. I’ve been a fan of his throughout the years” shared Julie Talbott. “Premiere Networks and FOX Sports Radio are dedicated to delivering the best multiplatform sports audio content the industry has to offer, and this award truly recognizes the amazing efforts of our entire team, who I couldn’t be more proud of.  Thanks to Jason Barrett and BSM for this incredible honor.” 

“I have known Julie for many, many years and our industry doesn’t have a better ambassador than her” added Jeff Smulyan. “She has worked tirelessly to build Premiere into a remarkable enterprise and she has made legions of friends and admirers along the way. She is so deserving of this award and I couldn’t be happier that my friend, Julie Talbott is the winner of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Nothing makes me happier than to present it to her this March at USC!” 

“FOX Sports Radio’s growth under Julie’s watchful eye has been impressive, but when combined with Premiere’s performance and reach, and seizing opportunities in the digital space by launching strong brands such as The Volume, in partnership with Colin Cowherd, you start to see how she’s put her magical touch on the industry,” explained BSM President Jason Barrett. “The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists, and few have the respect, trust, and confidence of their people better than Julie Talbott.”

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Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media and Silver Tribe Media to Appear at the 2023 BSM Summit

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is five months away but the process to build sports media’s annual industry event continues. We’ve already announced 11 participants for our next show including Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome and Joy Taylor, but by the time this show takes place, attendees can expect to hear from 50-60 people as the agenda becomes action packed.

I do want to share one thing for those inquiring about speaking. Though I appreciate the interest, I’m selective in who we feature on stage because it’s important to keep the show fresh and full of actionable content. There are tons of smart people in this industry but I can’t accommodate everyone. I try to create sessions that benefit radio, digital and television executives, programmers, general managers, talent, agents, salespeople, production staff, etc. and to do that, we’ve got to cover a lot of different subjects over a two-day span. My goal is to send folks home with ideas and information to improve their brands, while providing a space for groups and individuals to meet since it opens the door to additional business. We’ve been fortunate to have good support and participation over our past four events, and I’m expecting this one to be even bigger and better.

Before I announce the latest additions to our speaker lineup, I want to thank Premiere Networks for their continued support of the Summit. They’ve been wonderful partners for years, and I appreciate them joining us to create the annual Awards ceremony. It is always a hit with attendees. More to come soon on this year’s honorees.

I’d also like to thank Harker Research for returning as a partner of the event, and MRN Radio for signing on as a new partner. Harker has sponsored all of our live events, and MRN has been in attendance for those shows. Having their support makes a difference. They join Premiere Networks, Stone Voiceovers and Core Image Studio as Summit partners. If you haven’t secured a sponsorship but would like to be, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com. She can update you on what we still have available.

As far as the content is concerned, I’m excited to announce a very cool session we’re adding which will include involvement from Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media, and Silver Tribe Media.

Everywhere you look these days, athletes are taking more control of their own messaging. They’re also more interested in content creation and are investing in people to help build today and tomorrow’s sports media empires. Whether it’s been Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or broadcasters such as Colin Cowherd, Bill Simmons, Dave Portnoy and Pat McAfee, the era of personality-led audio networks has arrived. This session will examine where we are, where we’re going, what’s been learned, and how it will affect change across traditional media moving forward.

Jack Rose of Silver Tribe Media will moderate the session. Joining him on stage will be Logan Swaim, Head of Content at The Volume. Richelle Markazene, Head of Audio for Omaha Productions, and Mike Davis, President and Executive Producer of Dirty Mo Media. Each of these folks have great insight and experience with leading personality-built brands, and Jack’s understanding of the media landscape through his work with Michael Klein’s company make him an ideal fit to guide the conversation. This is a session that traditional media folks are going to want to be present for.

If you haven’t purchased a ticket or booked your hotel room, don’t wait until the last minute. Everything you need to be in attendance for the Summit is available at BSMSummit.com. We are excited to host the show at The Founders Club at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. This is a great location and the biggest room we’ve run our conference in yet. I’m hoping to see you there.

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Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Scott Shapiro, Scott Sutherland and Evan Cohen To Participate at 2023 BSM Summit

“The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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Building an annual sports media conference is no day at the beach. It takes months to assemble and involves a lot of different steps. We analyze what matters to those attending, brainstorm ideas, create a sketch of the show to make sure there’s enough variety to satisfy different segments of the industry, pursue tons of speakers who have experience and an ability to add something unique or valuable on stage, and create sales decks and talk to existing and potential clients about supporting the show. If all of it doesn’t flow seamlessly, we run the risk of not delivering the type of event I expect us to.

Fortunately, over the years we’ve put together a pretty good conference. I’m proud of how it’s grown and that’s only possible because we’ve had great support across the industry. If you work in sports media and value learning, relationship building, and connecting with teammates, peers and competitors, this is an event you need to be at. It’s one that companies looking to reach sports broadcasting professionals should be involved in from an advertising standpoint too. Though there’s a lot of work still to be done, when we arrive in Los Angeles for the 2023 BSM Summit at USC’s Founders Club at the Galen Center on March 21-22, 2023, I’m expecting our team will deliver another top-notch performance.

To help us make that happen, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have participation from some of the industry’s most accomplished broadcasting professionals. Joining us on site for our awards ceremonies will be the man who started the sports talk format, Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. Also making the trip to the west coast will be former WFAN program director and CBS Radio/Entercom/Audacy sports format captain Mark Chernoff. Both men are honored annually with awards in their names. We’ll reveal the winners of both of those awards in the weeks and months ahead.

Additionally, I’m pleased to welcome back Scott Sutherland. Scott serves as the Executive Vice President of Regional Media Operations for Bonneville International Corporation, and is responsible for the strategic development and business growth of the company’s market leading sports brands in Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. Also returning to the Summit is FOX Sports Radio’s Vice President of Programming Scott Shapiro. Scott is charged with guiding FOX Sports Radio’s daily content strategy, and always enjoys lending his perspective on key issues facing talent, brands, and content leaders.

I realize many of you reading this who work in the industry are last minute planners. That’s ok, but I’d encourage you to reserve your hotel room in advance if you wish to stay close to the Galen Center. Our hotel partner is the USC Hotel, and you can learn more about the discounted rate we’ve established for attendees by clicking here.

The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals. The sports media industry is rapidly changing and the more we can learn from one another and take advantage of information and relationships, the better it’ll serve us moving forward. To attend this show, you must be involved in the media business whether it’s on-air, digital, behind the scenes, in management, sales, ad buying, talent representation or something else. We will also allow college students to attend the show in person if they are pursuing a future in sports broadcasting. Details on student tickets will be made available closer to the holidays.

In the meantime, if you want to make sure you have a seat in the room to enjoy the sessions and network with industry professionals, purchase your ticket(s) by visiting BSMSummit.com. I look forward to seeing you there.

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