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Entercom Is Building a Sports Talk Radio Empire

Jason Barrett

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One of my favorite moments of each year’s NFL and NBA Draft’s are when the commissioner hits the stage and announces the following words – “We have a Trade”. The second that message is communicated to the audience, everyone starts freaking out. Some get visibly upset, and others start cheering without having any idea what’s actually transpired.

The questions then start circulating. Who’s being dealt? What are they getting back? Is it a superstar player from another team? How will this impact my team and the rest of the league?

It’s quite comical watching people immediately overreact, and often what follows is nothing significant or a move which can’t even be judged s a success or failure for the next two or three years. But in this instant gratification society that we live in this is how things go.

It’s no different in the world of radio. Let’s rewind to three weeks ago when the biggest story in radio hit the trades – “Entercom and CBS have announced a merger”.

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Right after the news broke, there were folks on social media assuming the worst and talking on the floor at radio row about the likelihood of needing to find a new job. Rather than absorbing the information, researching the company, and talking to others about what to expect, it became a classic case of “the sky is falling and we’re all doomed”.

If you’ve seen the movie “Captain Phillips” then you’ll likely remember the numerous instances when Barkhad Abdi tells Tom Hanks “Relax Irish. Everything is going to be ok”. And that’s exactly my message to you if you work in this industry, especially if you’re involved with a sports radio brand which now falls under Entercom’s watch.

It’s understandable to question where one fits into the big picture of a new company’s plan, but there is something called due process. People foolishly assume that they’ll go to work the next day and find the grim reaper lingering outside of their cubicle or studio, rather than focusing their time and energies on the tasks at hand. If you concentrate on generating results and revenue, and limit the noise, drama, and distractions around you, you’ll often find your job stability isn’t in question, even during times of change.

As it pertains to this specific situation, the first thing to point out is that a merger takes a while to complete. This isn’t a case where the news gets announced and the following day the new company dives into action and chops off the heads of 1000 employees.

Secondly, if a company is going to invest nearly two billion dollars (stock still counts) in taking over an organization, they’re doing so because they see value in it. Companies usually retain the majority of those who perform well and help the company’s bottom line.

Third, while the immediate reaction of employees is to scrutinize the new company acquiring them, they lose sight of the message being relayed by their previous employer. In this case it was loud and clear, CBS did not believe radio was important to their future.

blankFor decades CBS has been an excellent company, one of the best in radio broadcasting. But their priorities and interests changed. A loyal employee is entitled to feel saddened by the reality that the organization they gave years of their life to is going in a new direction, but while they reminisce about the god old days and assume the worst of what’s ahead, they lose sight of the bigger message. In this case it was cut and dry, CBS didn’t want to be part of their radio future, Entercom did.

I don’t have access to the thoughts that run thru Les Moonves’ mind, but if he felt CBS’ growth potential was stronger by breaking away from radio, and turning the business over to Entercom, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a business decision, plain and simple, and CBS will be just fine as a company without radio.

I just never understood why the group making the investment becomes the one placed under fire and the one selling off is seen as the darling of the transaction. It’s likely due to the concerns of consolidation taking place in the future, but as I said earlier, performers often are retained, and if not, other broadcast groups will be in hot pursuit of an individual’s services if they feel they can make money with them.

So how does this impact the future of sports radio? I think it couldn’t possibly be better.

blankNo disrespect to Cumulus or iHeart, but aside from CBS, Entercom has been one of the best at operating the sports radio format. In most cases they employ a live and local strategy on their stations and carry local play by play rights. That approach has placed them either in the driver’s seat or in striking distance of the top spot in numerous markets.

The reason Entercom is a significant player in the format is because CEO David Field, COO Weezie Kramer, and President of Programming Pat Paxton have a strong passion for it. They believe in the programming, the way it connects with targeted audiences, and understand the attraction it has to advertisers. They also recognize the power of play by play and are always at the table negotiating when opportunities arise to help their local sports radio brands.

Having had the benefit of working for them, I can tell you that they get involved with local leadership to help each brand prosper. I especially valued and appreciated how they gave their leaders a voice in the room, and were willing to make additional investments and support decisions that they may have been on the fence about if the acting PD and/or GM could make a strong case for it. I don’t know many companies who’s CEO takes the time during a market visit to personally sit down with a programmer and seek their input in trying to make a radio station better, but that’s what you get with David Field.

Once the merger is completed, Entercom will become the dominant force in sports radio programming. They will oversee the biggest local brands in the format, plus assume control of the CBS Sports Radio Network. The company could choose to give the network a much needed jolt to become a bigger national player or if they feel the network’s upside is limited they could elect to focus those resources in other areas.

If you look back at the company’s 2016 performance, Entercom was up in each quarter. Their stock price also grew from $11.23 per share on January 1, 2016 to $15.30 per share on December 31, 2016. Consider that during this same period of time, other groups were clinging to their stocks remaining listed and battling to avoid bankruptcy.

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CBS during that period also remained a solid performer but once again, the company was on the record saying they wanted to exit the radio business. That isn’t a good long-term recipe for gaining confidence from advertisers, employees, business partners, and stockholders.

Although there are many positives to look at, don’t forget that this merger isn’t finalized yet. There will be more transactions completed before we know what the entire big picture for the company looks like. Entercom will have a few markets where they’ll be over the limit of how many stations they can own and operate, which means they’ll have to either sell or trade off some of those stations. They’ll also have to decide during the process which brands they want to retain and which ones they’ll part with.

Case in point, in Boston, the company will have two of the most dominant sports stations in the country, WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Collectively they reach 25% of the male demo in the market. The first reaction from many was “they can’t possibly operate both sports radio brands”. My response, “why not”?

Nobody bats an eye when a company has two music stations or news/talk stations, so why is it not possible to operate two dominant sports brands? If the stations are generating revenue and ratings, and possess the radio rights to every professional and collegiate sports team in the market, why wouldn’t that be attractive to hold on to?

I have no idea if that will wind up being the case or not, and the same questions will come up in Miami and Sacramento where they now have two sports radio stations, but from where I sit, that’s a great problem for Entercom to have.

To paint a picture of where the company will sit in the sports radio space after this merger, assuming no additional sports stations get added to their portfolio, check this out.

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The company also operates a few other AM sports talkers which primarily feature network programming, and as impressive as all of these brands and markets are, now add the following list of play by play partnerships below into the mix.

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That’s a total of 45 play by play partnerships, and that doesn’t include college sports. The company also has some of those relationships too, including the rights to some prestigious schools such as North Carolina, Michigan, Miami, Kansas, LSU and a few others.

Depending on the language in each contract, some teams may have an opportunity to pull their rights from their current radio stations, and re-open the local bidding due to the merger. Given though the company’s increased power in the sports format, and its commitment to doing business with professional sports teams, I’d expect most franchises will want to remain in their current situations, especially if local business is strong.

When you analyze the way the company looks on paper, assuming the merger goes thru without any drastic changes, it is extremely impressive, and puts Entercom at the top of the sports radio empire. If you’re a market manager, host, producer, programmer, sales manager, account executive or imaging director with a passion for sports radio, this becomes the company you want to work for. If you’re an advertiser, there isn’t a group with more attractive sports assets, markets and brands who can put your message in front of the right audience on a local and national scale.

Only time will tell how it all plays out, but for the health of the sports format, and for the radio business as a whole, I think this is wonderful news. I don’t often say that when one radio company expands, and another is eliminated, but my personal history with Entercom gives me great confidence that they’ll execute in superb fashion.

Now it’s up to the company’s leaders, and every employee entering the workplace to deliver results, and use the momentum of this merger to help sports radio gain a much bigger piece of the pie. I look forward to seeing how it all comes together over the next few years.

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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 Blogs

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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