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Why Great Brands Never Stop Making Adjustments

Jason Barrett

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If you want to watch a group of people freak out, utter the one word that makes them uncomfortable – change! The minute they hear it, overreactions take center stage. If you can navigate your way through the threats, and insults, and avoid reversing course due to public pressure, you can stumble into success and enjoy a wonderful journey.

Take for example last week’s radio news in San Francisco. KNBR came to terms on an agreement with John Lund which will move him from middays with Greg Papa on 95.7 The Game, to afternoons with Tom Tolbert on KNBR once his contract expires in July. Lund is an incredibly talented host who will fit well with Tolbert, but KNBR was atop the ratings without him. One could make the case, “why mess with a good thing if it was already working”?

By adding John to their lineup, they not only put Tom in a stronger position, but they created long-term stability in afternoons with a host who knows how to get best out of his partners. They also added a fresh new voice to their lineup, and pulled someone away from their competitor, who was part of a show which was having ratings success against KNBR. That should give the brand confidence that Lund can be a solid ratings performer alongside Tolbert.

Although the majority of feedback was positive, not everyone was a fan of the move.

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The same story took place on the east coast too, where 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland announced they were promoting Anthony Lima to the morning show to join Ken Carman. Having listened to the show a few times during its transition period, it was obvious that Ken and Anthony had good chemistry, a lot in common, and sounded invested in the local sports scene. Once again, most of the feedback was positive, but some still took exception to it.

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These type of responses happen in sports radio all the time, and it doesn’t make them right or wrong. If anything, it should serve as motivation to the talent to prove that the new program will be great. When a show can convert critics to fans, that makes the job a lot more fun.

As common as it is in radio to hear listeners complain about changes, it’s even more magnified when it involves television personalities.

Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock have yet to debut their new program “Speak For Yourself” on FS1, but that hasn’t stopped many from reading the show its last rites. Skip Bayless hasn’t even left ESPN yet to join FS1, but his show too has already been written off. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know when it will air or who will be involved, critics who dislike Skip can’t fathom the idea that the program could possibly work. If you think each of those moves have generated a response, just wait until ESPN names Bayless’ replacement. ”

Jamie Horowitz, Fox Sports’ National Networks President who put Colin-Whitlock together, and stole Bayless away from ESPN, has already been labeled incompetent, and the dumbest sports media executive on the planet for attempting to create a sports television formula similar to Fox News, one which he’s already proven to be successful for his former employer.

Does Horowitz’s past success mean that he can stick any two people together, and have them debate topics and enjoy a rapid rise in television ratings? Not at all. But if it’s what he knows and does best, and it’s produced results, and he’s adding people who understand how to execute the vision, why wouldn’t he attempt it again?

Ask yourself this question, if you were Jamie Horowitz, and Fox hired you based on your track record of creating opinion led programming, would you really try to build a network without using your best pitch? That’d be like telling Randy Johnson not to use his fastball just to prove he can win without it. That makes zero sense.

Every single move in the media is going to draw mixed reviews. That comes with the territory when you work in a public business. But what’s important to understand is why brands must freshen up their presentations, introduce new personalities and programming, and avoid overreacting to immediate feedback.

People dislike the unknown. Whether it’s changing schools, jobs, the homes they live in, or even throwing away that one pair of sneakers that they’ve worn for the past few years, saying goodbye to something we’re comfortable with is difficult.

But people also get bored. When they lose interest, it’s hard to reel them back in. You might be the show they’ve grown up with, but if they view you as a part of their past, and irrelevant to their present or future, is that really helping you?

As much as we prefer routine, we also get sick of it. The thought of something new terrifies us, and leaves a pit in our stomachs. It also peaks our curiosity. It’s that suspense that leads us to check out new things, even if our first instincts were to reject them.

Don’t believe me? Turn on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News, and take a look at how many politicians have done a full reversal on Donald Trump.

To keep listeners/viewers interested, it’s important to disrupt patterns, and introduce new layers. For decades, people stuck with the same things because it was frowned upon if they attempted to satisfy their own individual tastes. They drove the same cars, kept the same jobs, ate at the same restaurants, and even stayed in the same marriages.

In professional sports, players used to report to the minors, and spend four to five years developing before being called up to perform at the major league level. Today, players like Bryce Harper, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant are rushed into action, and expected to dominate immediately. Although they may have experienced some growing pains along the way, most of them have proven that it’s a different era, and that they can handle the expectations.

On the other hand, one thing that’s drastically different is that there are no longer five to ten year plans in professional sports, let alone the sports media business. We perform in a win-now business, that exists in a “what have you done for me lately” world! You can put your vision on paper, and sell it to corporate bosses behind closed doors, but at some point in time, that strategy will require an adjustment. Everyone preaches patience, and the importance of understanding the big picture, but if progress isn’t experienced within two years, that’s when the finger pointing begins.

One brand which is always under fire is ESPN. When you’re the top dog in the sports media industry that’s to be expected. Critics quickly point out SportsCenter’s declining ratings, and the network’s loss of key talent. What they’re not as fast to point out is how the network still trumps every sports provider for audience size on-air and online, or how the company still employs the largest collection of on-air media talent in the entire sports business. That doesn’t mean they don’t face challenges, but few brands can sustain them the way the mothership has.

Speaking of moves, two big changes were made at the network yesterday. Mike Tirico’s departure to NBC was confirmed, but so were the exits of Ray Lewis, and Cris Carter. Stepping in to fill their voids are Sean McDonough, and Randy Moss. McDonough assumes Tirico’s spot in the MNF booth, and Moss is expected to take over for Carter, and/or Lewis.

If you’ve paid attention over the years, ESPN is known for giving its NFL programming a fresh coat of paint every few years. They do this to keep people interested in the programming.

We can debate which talents were great, and which ones weren’t, but shows like “NFL Countdown” have featured Steve Young, Michael Irvin, Jim Kelly, Bill Parcells, Rush Limbaugh, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter, and Mike Ditka. Each of those men have had stellar careers and proven themselves worthy as analysts but that hasn’t stopped the network from changing the cast. They enter the 2016 season with a new cast of characters which is expected to include Charles Woodson, Matt Hasselbeck, and Randy Moss.

What that shows the viewer is that ESPN is committed to featuring compelling people, and providing a new reason to check out the show each season. The changes aren’t necessarily a reflection of the previous talent not doing something right, as much as they are about keeping things fresh, and offering players who are recently removed, but still connected to the game. I myself can appreciate what some of those former analysts brought to the table, but I’ll definitely tune in to see what Moss, Woodson, and Hasselbeck have to offer.

Think about your favorite television sitcoms or series. They usually run for three or four months, and include a variety of characters and different storylines, leading up to a season finale ends which ends with a twist, and leaves you in suspense wanting more. When the show returns a few months later, it has a new feel and approach. That’s done to help the program avoid becoming stale, and remain top of mind. If new elements aren’t introduced to draw people back in and keep them excited, ratings may decline, and the show could be cancelled.

In sports radio though, there is no off-season, so I’m going to use the WWE as a comparison since they deal with the same challenge.

This past April, the company’s signature event, WrestleMania 32, was held. It’s a major event which this year drew more than 100,000 fans to AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Another million plus people in the United States and internationally watched the program on pay per view and the WWE Network.

WrestleMania is supposed to be the show which brings closure to many of the company’s biggest storylines of the year. But after it’s over, a new season begins the following night on Monday Night Raw. In twenty four hours, the company has to close the door on multiple angles, and introduce new characters, storylines, and twists and turns. If they fail on Monday night, the previous night’s momentum loses value.

Now think about that as if it were your radio show. If on Friday you delivered your normal talk show, and on Monday you were due to receive a big boost in listening due to more sampling, what would you do to get people talking, and make them want to tune in again the next day?

From a week to week standpoint it might be difficult to introduce wholesale changes, but it absolutely can be and should be done on a seasonal or annual basis. All that requires is creativity and effective game planning.

Depending on what moves the needle most in your town, maybe it makes sense to introduce new regular guest appointments throughout one of those seasons. Or maybe you create a day where you pair two popular station personalities from two different shows together for an hour in-studio. You can also create roundtable debates, topical features, branded hours, themed road shows, and a number of other programming ideas. It all comes down to what suits your style and your audience’s interests.

Regardless of which path you choose, the goal is to keep people listening, talking, and wanting to come back. Whether it’s an annual makeover, a seasonal adjustment, or a monthly tweak, the more you keep the audience on their toes in suspense, and looking forward to new developments with your show, the better your chances of turning them into long-term fans.

And don’t think that this only applies when you’re trailing in the ratings. The best shows make adjustments when they’re on top. You don’t see professional sports teams standing pat at the trade deadline when they’re in first place and have an opportunity to add someone who can help them win a championship. That same mentality is necessary in keeping your program and/or station fresh.

If your personality, and presentation is strong, and new twists and turns are introduced to keep listeners excited, the audience will buy what you’re selling – even if their immediate reaction is to reject it. But, remember that people will change a car, job, and even a marriage, so if you treat them to a predictable brand of programming, don’t be surprised when they treat you to a sticker that reads “you’ve been replaced”.

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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