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Something To Bet On

Jason Barrett

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By nature I’m passionate about the radio industry and quick to defend it. Two decades of labor, five market stops, hundreds of relationships, and countless positive experiences have shaped my views that way. I don’t apologize for that. It doesn’t mean the industry doesn’t have its share of flaws, but all things considered, it’s a pretty great business, one which I believe has more room for growth than ever before.

A few weeks ago I attended Radio Ink’s Forecast 2019 at the Harvard Club in New York City. From start to finish the event was jam packed with information, and featured a who’s who of industry movers and shakers. In what can only be described as a monumental upset, I was asked by Radio Ink officials to moderate a panel featuring ESPN Audio SVP Traug Keller, Cumulus and Westwood One SVP of Sports Bruce Gilbert, and Entercom Regional President Susan Larkin. I’d like to thank whoever spiked the punch to convince them to think of me. It’s appreciated.

Over the course of forty minutes we tackled a variety of subjects from sports gambling to gaming, improving diversity in sports radio management, attracting larger advertisers to sports radio, the state of ratings measurement, and changing the perception of sports radio being niche. One of the headlines which stood out most was Traug’s declaration of sports gambling becoming even bigger for the sports format than what initial projections suggested.

“This is bigger than people think,” said Keller. “The numbers coming out of New Jersey are staggering.”

If he’s right, which I do think he is, this is going to be a massive opportunity for sports media brands. The initial projections from Gambling Compliance, an independent provider of gambling industry data and research, listed sports betting as a 2 billion dollar industry. After the Supreme Court made their decision though, those projections increased to between 3.1 and 5.2 billion by the year 2023. The state of New Jersey supplied a small dose of what’s to come when during their first 17 days of legalized sports betting activity, the state raked in 16.4 million dollars.

You read that news and it instantly grabs your attention and gets your mind thinking about ways to capitalize. The challenge for brands is going to be setting boundaries so the airwaves don’t get polluted with non-stop gambling messaging. That means not allowing every Tom, Dick, and Harry who bills themselves as a gambling expert to gain time on shows, even if they’re offering dollars to do so.

It also means having to create systems to avoid having situations where four of five minutes of commercial breaks feature sports gambling commercials. GM’s are going to have to work with their sales managers to make sure pricing is set high enough so not everyone can play in the space. I’d also expect more hugs needed in the sales department when sales managers and GM’s have to deliver bad news to account executives, rejecting buys from other sports gambling groups because they’ve either sold out inventory or reached maximum capacity on what the programming team will allow on the air.

Regardless of the challenges, many in sports media circles expect an influx of cash thanks to sports gambling legalization. It’s the topic everyone has been talking about, and it was voted the #1 sports business story of the year in the Sports Business Journal. The only question is will the entire pot of gold be discovered in 2019, 2020 or later.

That got me to thinking about how the rise of sports gambling will influence future programming on radio, television and in print. We’ve already seen the NY Post form a partnership with VSiN to provide sports betting written content. The TVG Network also joined forces with VSiN. The new owner of the Los Angeles Times has said he plans to evolve the newspaper’s sports section by including coverage of eSports, and it’s safe to assume that sports betting will gain further attention too. Plus the upstart digital TV channel Cheddar has regularly produced content aimed at sports gaming and betting enthusiasts.

But what about traditional radio and TV outlets?

If you turn on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, one of his most popular segments is Bad Beats. Tune into a sports radio station and you might hear an Action Update from VSiN or a sports betting expert appearing on a show to educate fans on potential moneymaking opportunities surrounding an upcoming game. Even FOX Sports Radio entered the fray this year by adding the weeknight show Straight Outta Vegas with RJ Bell to its schedule. FS1 did the same with the addition of Lock It In featuring Clay Travis, Cousin Sal, Todd Fuhrman, and Rachel Bonnetta. ESPN+ also followed suit by partnering with the Action Network on the show I’ll Take That Bet.

If you paid attention to industry news this week, you saw Darren Rovell announced his exit from ESPN to join the Action Network, where he’s expected to serve as an executive and cover the business of sports betting. Barstool Sports has gained strong social buzz this football season with the creation of their betting program Sports Betting Advisors featuring Dave Portnoy, Big Cat and Stu Feiner. Bleacher Report got involved in the space by launching a show with Chris Simms and Adam Lefkoe, and others such as The Ringer and Westwood One have created podcasts built around sports gambling content.

I think it’s fair to say that each of these brands understand what’s at stake. Groups like VSiN and the Action Network prepared well in advance by hiring good people, creating good content, and establishing relationships, even before the supreme court opened the door for states to make decisions on the future of legalized sports betting. Because they took the risk and got in early, they’re now in great position to take full advantage of it.

We’ve seen leagues like the NBA, MLB and NHL evolve their views on sports gambling, striking deals with the MGM casino for use of their data, logos and advanced statistics. DraftKings and FanDuel have opened locations in New Jersey and used their apps to generate larger revenues. Buffalo Wild Wings has even expressed interest in making sports betting available inside their bars and restaurants.

So what does it all mean?

Well, the obvious point is that the space is going to expand rapidly. Audiences will soon be treated to more of this type of content, and major advertisers, especially ones who are after the sports fan’s betting dollar, will be looking to sports media brands to help them build their customer base. You’ll likely see networks creating sports betting experts the same way they have sports analysts, and programming features will become part of shows you never would have expected them to be included in.

But is sports radio positioned to prosper from it? If you measure it from the over the air side, yes. Ratings, talent endorsements, and play by play associations are attractive to brands like StubHub, FanDuel, DraftKings, MGM and Buffalo Wild Wings. But it’s the digital space (where most economic projections expect bigger growth) where I have a few concerns.

I spent some time surfing thru the websites of a number of sports radio stations to see which local brands were developing original sports betting podcasts. I then examined the podcast charts by typing in ‘sports betting’ and ‘sports gambling’ to see which podcasts appeared in those categories. To my surprise, local sports radio underwhelmed.

What stood out most was that there weren’t many original local podcasts available on sports betting/gambling from local sports stations. National outlets did a much better job, along with groups like VSiN, Action Network, The Ringer, Barstool Sports, etc.. Among the few exceptions were The Sharp 600 by Joe Fortenbaugh of 95.7 The Game, a podcast done independently of the radio station, and KNBR’s Tom Tolbert, who’s hosting the Corndogs and Underdogs podcast.

Some of you reading this will be quick to point out that the iTunes charts can be easily manipulated. That’s true. They can. Which begs the question, why aren’t sports radio stations doing it then? Whether the system is imperfect or not, it’s where legions of sports fans turn to find podcasts, and advertisers judge whether or not you’re easily discovered there. If your content isn’t located under the category it’s built for on the first page, let alone the first three, good luck commanding larger dollars.

It left me wondering, if spending is expected to increase in the sports betting category, and major advertisers like DraftKings and FanDuel seek more of that content, especially digitally, why would they turn to a local sports radio station? They can find what they want on the national level, and thru popular sports digital brands, but local sports radio stations with their strong social followings, and 13-18 hours per day to promote content don’t deliver enough unique content or buzz on the subject matter.

If you’re inside of a sports radio station today, one of the most important conversations that should be taking place frequently between management and on-air talent should be about owning the sports betting space across multiple platforms. By the way, that doesn’t mean picking a part-time staff member and having them do a 30-minute podcast to say you’re present in the space. It means getting creative, and attacking the opportunity the same way you would a play by play partnership, or entering football season when you hire contributors for your main programs.

These are different times then before. When I programmed stations, I wasn’t a huge fan of sports betting content on the air. There were a lot of scammers looking to use the station’s airwaves to line their pockets, and although it may have been attractive to sales to add easy money for five minutes of garbage, I believed it was more important to put talent in a position to succeed, and respect the audience’s time.

But that was before legitimate people started creating content in the space, and before the supreme court granted authority to each state to decide their own fate. Fifteen years ago we looked at fantasy football content as a niche thing that wasn’t built for the mainstream, and now it’s a huge part of the American sports fan’s life. The same holds true with sports betting.

If there’s one major issue our business has it’s that we sometimes react too late. We’ve got to be thinking ahead and preparing ourselves to be a preferred destination when windfalls of cash become available, not walking in the door and promising to customize something after interest has picked up. Anyone can play the stock market afterwards, but it’s those who study trends, ask questions, and ultimately roll the dice who benefit the most.

Who’s your station’s go to expert on gambling? How are you elevating them across your shows, website, and social media channels? Are you hiring outside contributors or oddsmakers and building them up the same way you have ESPN, FOX or CBS NFL reporters? Do you have shows designed specifically for podcasting? Twitter? Instagram? Facebook? Have you asked the clients who have the most to gain in this space to share their ideas with you on how to create memorable content? What are you bringing to the table that isn’t available anywhere else?

If you solve those problems, I want you to ask yourself if you’re confident of your programming matching up with some of the other brands I mentioned earlier. If I walked into your building tomorrow as the buyer of DraftKings or FanDuel’s advertising, and I had seven figures to spend with one brand, could you convince me you had more to offer in this space than what those other groups have available?

This is what you’re going to be up against. Keep in mind, I’ve focused mostly on the audio part of this discussion. If I dove deep into each sports station’s social media video content and written pieces on the topic of sports betting I’d be terrified of what I’d find. It certainly wouldn’t measure up against the content being supplied by those other outlets. That points to an obvious opportunity for brands to explore partnerships with others who can bring things to the table that they can’t.

I consider this a critical conversation, and I’m thrilled that it’s going to be part of our agenda at the BSM Summit in Los Angeles in February. VSiN Chairman and co-founder Brian Musburger, Action Network Head of Media Chad Millman, and FanDuel President and COO Kip Levin have graciously agreed to spend time discussing the present and future of sports betting, lessons they’ve learned since entering the space, and what media brands can do to help themselves. 95.7 The Game morning man and Sharp 600 podcast host Joe Fortenbaugh will moderate the discussion.

Given what’s at stake from a monetization and interest standpoint, this is an area we can’t afford to miss the mark on. The reality right now is that the VSiN’s, Action Network’s, Barstool’s, Ringer’s, and Bleacher’s of the world know this space better and deliver better talent and content in it than local sports radio. So too do national brands like FOX, CBS and ESPN. If sports gambling is indeed the elixir that the sports format has been waiting for, then we’ve got to make sure we’re capable of matching up with the best that any other media brand can provide. If not, we’ll soon be waving goodbye to another lost opportunity, and this one could have grave consequences.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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