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Meet The Market Managers: Joe Bell, Beasley Media Philadelphia

“I don’t consider myself a sales guy. I have always considered myself a radio guy who could sell.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Philadelphia loves its sports and is devoted to sports talk radio. The ratings battle between 94 WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic is certainly never boring. It is the perfect market to start the new season of Meet the Market Managers.

Joe Bell oversees Beasley’s Philadelphia cluster. He isn’t just making decisions for The Fanatic. He is in charge of one of the market’s most successful clusters.

He came to Philadelphia from Miami, where he was in charge of a cluster that included WQAM. Those are two very different sports and sports radio cultures.

The radio business has taken Joe Bell all over the place. His last two stops have been major markets, but his 50 year career has seen him lead groups in small markets across Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. That’s not too bad for a guy that started at 19 because a friend told him radio was a great way “to get chicks to call you.”

In our conversation, Joe Bell talks about why the Philadelphia Flyers don’t mind not being on the Fanatic when their games conflict with a Sixers game. It is a real testament to the powers of the brands he runs. He also talks about how relationships are changing as the pandemic subsides and why it isn’t impossible for outsiders to succeed in Philadelphia.

Demetri Ravanos: You were part of a panel at the BSM Summit last month where you talked a bit about surviving the pandemic and being in a good position coming out of it. You pointed out that you were the only one on the stage talking about it from a sales perspective because everyone else was a programmer.                

So, The Fanatic has made some programming changes since you’ve been the leader there. When you have conversations like with Chuck Damico, when you’re thinking of making him the program director, with John Kincade, when you’re thinking about bringing him in for mornings, what do programming candidates need to know about The Fanatic’s sales goals when you start talking with them? 

Joe Bell: Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself a sales guy. I have always considered myself a radio guy who could sell. I got in the business through programming. If I did it better, that’s what I would still be doing. I look at it a little bit different. I am excited that folks like Mike Thomas and, Chris Olivero get the shot to be market managers. For a long time, everybody came from sales, right? This is such a programing driven business. It’s all about content.     

I manage eight radio stations here, and while ratings are important, sports radio is a much more emotional buy. There are so many opportunities to attach your clients to programming for them to get direct results. So it’s a lot different than selling ads on a music station. There are just so many ways to involve a client through sponsorships, whether that’s attachment to the teams, personalities, and/or live endorsements.        

Our sales effort is so closely aligned with our programming that sometimes it’s hard to separate them. Kincade is the best I think I’ve ever seen at being able to weave a liner into content to where you really don’t realize that’s what he did.        

To me, sports radio is reality radio. It’s like reality TV before reality TV. It changes every day. It’s live every day. I mean, things happen and you’re on it. So it’s been a lot of fun. I did sports radio in Miami with WQAM, so it’s been a big part of what I’ve done my whole career. 

DR: So I do want to come back to a couple of different things you said in there, but you mentioned some of the guys that have gone from programing into the market manager side of things. And I wonder, as somebody that is a market manager right now, how do you scout talent for future management? You mentioned this. It would be so easy to say, “Oh, well, that seller has the best numbers. They should be leading and teaching everyone else.” But you need more than that. So what are you looking for in either sellers or programmers that makes you think it is worth investing your time in helping them take the next step? 

JB: That’s a great question, because first of all, they have to want to do that, not everybody does. I work with some sales people who have no interest in doing anything other than their doing. They’re awesome salespeople. They make a lot of money.          

Same thing with talent. A lot of talent does not want to be management. They’re really good at being on the air. They enjoy it.       

I think the first thing is identifying what somebody’s goals are longterm and how can we help them get there. But we’ve got two or three people that work here right now that I’d be shocked if I opened the trades in 10 years and they weren’t market managers.

DR: You mentioned your history running a cluster in Miami that included WQAM. Obviously, that is night and day as a sports market compared to Philadelphia. Did you have enough of a background in sports radio coming into Philadelphia that it didn’t necessarily change your expectations for what sports radio could do in a marketplace, do you come in, see the how much the city revolves around sports conversations and immediately raise your expectations?

JB: Yeah, absolutely. If I were to pick my favorite radio station of all time that I did not manage. It’s probably WLW in Cincinnati. They did a lot of play-by-play and sports talk. I mean, going back to Bob Trumpy and people like that. So I’ve always been a huge consumer of the format.         

You’re right, Miami is a great place to live, but it doesn’t have the passion for sports that exists here in Philly. So many people are not from Miami, they’re transplants. They’re interested, but they don’t live and die with as we say here, four-for-four.

DR: I really like that term. I’ve never heard that before. 

JB: That’s big here. Our guys ask all the time, are you four-for-four? And you know, Philly is not unlike Boston and New York in a couple of markets that support more than one very successful sports talk radio station. 

DR: Very true. That brings me back to something else you said at the Summit. You talked about how important it is to build and service relationships with the teams you broadcast. For you guys, it is the Sixers and the Flyers.        

I want to talk specifically about the Sixers here because I do wonder how you capitalize on something like this. I mean, the never-ending story around that team this year from a sales perspective, is that just pitching to clients that they want to be a part of the excitement? They want to be a part of everything Sixers in the 2021-2022 season? Or do you start to talk to them about how you can make moments like the Harden trade special specifically for them? 

JB: It’s more of what we do around the team. We’ve got a tremendous relationship with the Sixers and the Flyers. My whole theory is that your partners are partners. If one of the teams asks me to do something and we can do it, we do it. I think the teams pretty much do the same thing.              

You’re at the mercy sometimes of the momentum the team has. And right now, I mean, the Sixers have been red hot. It’s been a great ride the last few years, but it just gets better and better.         

We are always brainstorming about how we can take what we do and take it to the next level. We do a shoot-out, a knockout tournament, every year. It turned out that this year it was on the night of Harden’s first game. We have a hundred listeners on the court after the game trying to win a prize in a knockout tournament. And so, we look at all different kinds of things.

The other thing is our hosts are very embedded in the marketplace, and with the teams. Gargano, Kincade, those were local guys. It’s not an act. They grew up here, they’re big fans, and I think it comes across on the air. 

DR: When you are doing both the NBA and NHL, they’re both the top league in their sport and they play at the exact same time. So, what are the negotiations like between the two? How do you make them understand, “Hey, they’re going to be nights you’re playing on the same night and here’s how that’s going to work.”? 

JB: The Sixers are always on the Fanatic. Oddly enough, and this deal was already in place when I got here, we carry the conflict games for hockey on WMMR, which is the number-one-rated station in Philadelphia. When you take a look at the audience of MMR, as a rock and roll station, a lot of males are in the audience, and it hasn’t hurt the ratings at all. As a matter of fact, I know the Flyers like the fact that when they can’t be on The Fanatic they are on MMR. So it’s a really good combination. There’s about 20 games a year, I would guess, that we have to put on MMR, but it’s been a good situation for everybody. 

DR: A legendary station to be associated with too. That’s not a bad consolation prize when the sports signal isn’t available. 

JB: Absolutely! In terms of play by play, unless the team is really hot at the moment, your numbers at night probably aren’t going to be as good as your daytime numbers. What it does is it fuels conversation and interest and passion. The Sixers have been driving content on The Fanatic. It’s all people want to talk about in a city where they usually just want to talk about the Eagles. 

DR: When you talk about capturing the moment for partners and teams, I think about Anthony Gargano. I can’t tell you how much mileage we got out of that video of him learning live on air about the James Harden trade. That was that was such an authentic kind of moment. 

JB: That’s who he is. You know, each of our guys are that way. Kincade is pretty slick and comes across different. I mean, he’s a Philly guy. I ask him how many cousins he has because everybody that calls the station says they’re related to him in some way.          

I tried to hire John for a couple of years when he was in Atlanta. Every time I talked to him, he’d say, “You know, I’m going to end up back in Philly, but today’s not the day.” He had a daughter in high school but when they blew up his former station, I called him the next day and I said, “Is today a good day?” He starts laughing and says “Today would be a great time to talk.”

He’s been a huge addition to the station. Gargano and Mike Missanelli were both newspaper guys. That generation of sports talk talent, so many of them came from print locally. You know, that means they’re so invested in the area and well know. It makes us a lot of fun. 

DR: You mentioned that on-air, listeners really crave that authenticity. I think that is part of the reputation of Philly being kind of a tough sports market, right? They want to hear from their own Who are you to talk about the Eagles if you didn’t grow up in Jenkintown, right? You know what I mean? 

JB: Oh, that’s right on. Listen, Anthony Gargano is more Philly than a good cheesesteak. 

DR: So what about the clients? Why do local voices matter when you are going out to sell The Fanatic?

JB: Well, the first thing is our guys get results for people. I think that’s one of the real attributes of spoken word. If done right, whether it’s sports or political or whatever, people develop such a close relationship with the talent and believe what they say. It works really well at generating results for the client. You can spot phony a mile away and our guys are really authentic and love what they do and it comes across. 

DR: So what about with your sellers? Can a seller from outside the market come to Philadelphia and find success? 

JB: I think so. Somebody told me when I came here that your talent all had to be from Philly. Preston and Steve are doing 20 shares in the morning on MMR. Neither one of them are from Philly, but they’ve been here for 100 years. I think the key, if you’re coming in from outside of the market is to understand what makes the market unique and what people love about it.

What people don’t want to have is somebody to come here and tell them what’s wrong with it. That’s the thing here. If you don’t like it, go back to where you came from.

I think it’s a great market. I love it. Growing up in southern Ohio, around Dayton and Cincinnati, I see the same kind of people and same work ethic. People love it here. Very few people leave Philly, and if they do, they oftentimes come back. It’s very provincial. 

DR: So you mentioned MMR several times, I want to talk a little bit about the fact that you have Chuck Damico involved with both The Fanatic and WMMR. Maybe you have already given me the answer to this with how much crossover there is, but why is it important to you to have someone involved with The Fanatic who also has experience with WMMR? 

JB: The reason that I made Chuck just the PD of The Fanatic is he was instrumental in the development of Preston and Steve. He still does some producing for them. He gets storytelling and understands how to build talent. I think those are two attributes he really has. When you get right down to it, that’s what we do, right? We tell stories.          

I tell our guys all the time that it’s not about the scores. You can get your scores on the phone, and once you know the score, what more is there to know about that game?           

What they want to know is what happened. What’s going to happen? What do you think might happen? That’s storytelling and Chuck is really good at developing talent and teaching them to do that. So, when I saw what he had done with Preston and Steve, I thought ” you know, we have a tremendous PD at MMR in Bill Weston. Hopefully Bill’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So Chuck was in the number two spot and did a great job with talent. And we talked and I said, “could you handle both?” and he said, Absolutely.               

We have a really strong APD on The Fanatic in Eric “Coach” Camille, who also executive produces the morning show. So it’s about having really good people and making sure you get him in the right spot in the lineup. 

DR: So how much of an asset is it to have somebody that has so much influence on both brands when you are putting together these big multi-station campaigns? Because MMR and the Fanatic like that Venn diagram seems like it should be a perfect circle of listeners. 

JB: Even though we have some people involved in both, we operate them totally separate. In the last monthly ratings, we have four of the top six stations in the market, 25-54 primetime. So we’ve got strong brands and we do try to keep them what we call “wingtip to wingtip”. You want them not getting in each other’s way. We want all of them to be as strong as possible. 

DR: At the Summit, you talked about coming through the pandemic that it was a real opportunity to strengthen the relationship with local clients and to reach out and say, “How can we help you right now?” So here we are, we’ve passed the two year anniversary of the world turning upside down and you go out and it looks like we’ve either learned to live with it or at the very least, COVID 19 has faded into the background in a lot of people’s lives. I wonder if the same thing has happened with the strength of those relationships at all. As that uncertainty and that threat subsides, do you wonder if the memories of how you helped those clients, whether it was keep their doors open or just make one specific thing happen, do you worry that those are going to start to do the same? Time just seems to have that effect on everything. 

JB: That’s a really good question. I think this cluster, even when it was Greater Media, before we bought it, had a very, I guess you would call it, “servant style” sales operation. What can we do to help you?  We’ve carried that through. The pandemic intensified that.           

Our whole thing has always been creating partnerships and programs with clients that goes a lot further than selling spots for a specific timeframe. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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