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FOX’s Strategy to Launch the WWE Was Glorious

“Nearly 4 million people tuned in to watch WWE Smackdown on FOX. Strategy and execution had a lot to do with it.”

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If you’re a wrestling fan you’ll probably enjoy this column. If you’re not a fan of sports entertainment, that shouldn’t matter. This piece isn’t about who deserves a world title push or should be in line to main event the next WrestleMania. It’s about re-imagining an existing brand, and creating a strong multi-platform strategy to ensure success.

WWE Smackdown debuted last Friday night on FOX. The first impression was strong for both companies, and the ratings backed it up. Nearly 4 million people tuned into the first show, a big spike in viewership compared to recent months of the show on the USA Network. Congrats to Eric Shanks and his team at FOX and all involved with the WWE on a great start.

Though they’ve only produced one show, and there’s much more work to be done, I thought there was a lesson in the debut worth sharing with you. If the same company (WWE), delivered the same show (Smackdown) featuring most of the same talent, just on a different night and network, is that enough of a reason for the audience size to double?

Here let me answer that for you, it’s not. It happened because of great strategy and execution.

Leading up to the Friday night debut, you couldn’t turn on FOX and not know WWE Smackdown was premiering on Friday night October 4th. Wrestling personalities appeared during live games on the network, sometimes in the booth or sidelines during the action, other times at halftime with the studio crew. They visited FOX studio shows, appeared at FOX’s Upfront for advertisers, and toured different cities to appear on local FOX affiliates. WWE also used their brand’s massive social media following and the enormous influence of their individual performer’s accounts to promote the partnership.

In addition to the on-air segments and public appearances, FOX introduced a killer promo campaign titled ‘We’re All Superstars‘. The promos ran frequently on television, including on social media, and immediately grabbed your attention. Sometimes in sports media we rush promos on to the air just for the sake of telling people something is happening, but FOX’s creative for this campaign should have reminded you of how critical it is to cut thru the clutter to get people talking about your content. Fantastic job by their promo team. To watch the promo click here.

FOX also worked with WWE to develop personality-specific playlists on Pandora. They created an augmented reality program for Facebook and Instagram to allow users to insert their faces on wrestlers. The TV company even got involved in merchandising, making sure deals with Mattel and Walmart to sell WWE action figures included FOX Sports branding. If you’re managing a sports media brand and going thru a future negotiation with a franchise, remember this. There are always new ways to reach more fans and build on a successful partnership.

From an on-air promotional standpoint, they even made the little things matter. Whenever a segment aired on FOX to promote the WWE, you heard ACDC’s ‘Are You Ready’ play either in the intro, outro or during the segment. That’s simple but effective brand reinforcement. Now when fans hear that song they’ll think of Smackdown on FOX.

To make the first show feel even bigger, FOX created a Smackdown pre-game show live from ‘the blue carpet’. A sea of wrestlers and celebrities posed for photos outside the Staples Center and stopped by for chats with FOX Sports’ Charissa Thompson. Renee Young and Booker T added material from inside the Staples Center. It was during the pre-game show that the network revealed the new stage and set for the show. It looked awesome and generated a lot of social media conversation.

I even took notice of how FOX’s experience with producing live games paid dividends. During the pre-game show, FOX had The New Day reveal the new Smackdown set while standing right in front of the ring. They also showed video footage of Kofi Kingston and Brock Lesnar arriving at the building for their heavily hyped championship match. That made it feel important. It was no different than when you see Tom Brady in a suit rolling into Foxboro for a playoff game.

Now that we’ve covered the pre-promotion for the launch of WWE on FOX, what about the actual show? Was it a one-week flash in the pan or a sign of bigger things to come? After all, the WWE once worked with NBC for the XFL and the first week’s ratings were a massive success. Unfortunately soon after they quickly ‘faded into bolivion’ as Mike Tyson once famously said.

From start to finish, I thought the show was entertaining. There was an introduction from Vince and Stephanie McMahon highlighting the new partnership with FOX, crowd shots of FOX talents Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Rob Stone, and a backstage interview with the New Day conducted by FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews which produced a lot of chatter.

The action in the ring was outstanding too. The Rock returned and won over the crowd in the opening segment which included Becky Lynch and Baron Corbin. Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury appeared and got into a confrontation with WWE superstar Braun Strowman. ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt (one of WWE’s most exciting current characters) attacked world champion Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens beat Shane McMahon to cost him his job, and Roman Reigns followed up a win over Erick Rowand by shaking hands with Daniel Bryan.

But the biggest moment of the night occurred in the main event. Brock Lesnar ended Kofi Kingston’s world title run in less than 10 seconds, sending social media into a frenzy. The quick win over Kingston was shocking, but minutes after becoming world champion it got even better. A ghost from Lesnar’s past appeared, former UFC heavyweight champion, and the man who beat Lesnar for the title, Cain Velasquez. Cain stared him down before entering the ring, and then took him to the mat and unloaded on Brock before he could escape the ring. It got people talking and wanting to see more which is all WWE and FOX could have asked for. To nobody’s surprise, the show trended #1 all night on Twitter.

I noticed that the segments moved quick too. The exception was The Rock’s segment, but when one of the biggest superstars in entertainment and the most gifted performer to hold a microphone appears in the ring, you get out of his way and let him do his thing. I don’t care how long it goes. The result is must-watch television, which The Rock once again provided.

Michael Cole and Corey Graves also deserve credit for their work on the broadcast. They were outstanding as a two-man team, and their approach to calling the show was much more serious. They made the show feel like a must-see event and serious competition. Having watched numerous shows on RAW where three at the announcers table felt like too many, and the commentary felt aimed at the 8-year old fan instead of the 18-34 year old viewer, it was a breath of fresh air.

The reason why FOX and WWE enjoyed a successful debut is because they designed a great multi-platform strategy to support a new program and partnership. They then went out and executed it. So much of success happens beforehand, and Friday night’s premier was a great example of that.

FOX has made it known they believe in live events and want to use them to draw viewers on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. With Thursday Night Football, WWE Smackdown, College Football’s 12pm game, and FOX NFL Sunday, they’ve got plenty of great programming to attract eyeballs. When you combine it with sound strategy and crisp execution, it’s easy to see why a great brand produces immediate results.

Barrett Blogs

Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets

“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”

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There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.

Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.

Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.

I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.

With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.

BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!

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Barrett Blogs

Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”

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When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.

Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.

Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.

Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.

Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.

Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.

We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.

To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.

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Barrett Blogs

BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas

“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”

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The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.

Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.

Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.

Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.

Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.

A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.

Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.

Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.

That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.

One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.

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