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When Teams Gain Influence Over Content

Jason Barrett

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One word that few people respond favorably to is censorship. By definition, the word implies a practice in limiting or removing key information and opinion from an important conversation or story.

If you’ve paid attention to the news cycle since Donald Trump entered the White House, the topic has been a heavy focus for the American people. Many feel the media have positioned Trump unfairly and support his desire to derail the nation’s news outlets. Others believe he’s entered dangerous territory by attempting to block free speech and silence honest reporters who have brought to light questionable actions and decisions that have occurred under his administration.

One of the very freedoms of our country that makes it great is having the ability to speak our minds even if others disagree. The talk radio business itself would be pretty bland if not for the thousands of men and women who grace the airwaves each day expressing their points of view, stirring up conversations, and engaging our minds and giving us different things to consider and take exception with.

But while it may be exciting to be granted access to a microphone and deliver your opinion to thousands of local listeners, there are responsibilities that come with the talk show host position.

My first rule of thumb for any personality who’s performed on one of my previous brands is to never get personal. Once you do, it’s an impossible conversation to recover from. You can criticize on the field performance, off the field behavior, and anything that comes up and is relevant to a franchise’s failures or which paints an individual or organization negatively in the public eye. But there is a fine line between attacking one’s actions and their personal character.

If you work in the sports media or enjoy reading about it, you’ve likely seen the story this week that took place in Sacramento. Sports Radio 1140 KHTK host Damien Barling, who’s part of the station’s midday program “The Lo-Down”, was off the air on Wednesday following a critical commentary against the Sacramento Kings organization after the team traded away its franchise player DeMarcus Cousins. The station opened up Wednesday’s program with a brief response from Barling’s partners Jason Ross and Ken Rudolph before turning the airwaves over to a nationally syndicated show.

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The incident occurred on Tuesday during the final hour of Barling’s show and has caused a firestorm in sports media circles. Here were his remarks, which included midday host Jason Ross in the conversation. You can hear them by clicking here.

Barling: That was embarrassing. That was absolutely embarrassing.

Ross: In what way?

Barling: In every single way imaginable. That dude is not fit to be the general manager of a basketball team. This is real life. You just heard a general manager say publicly at a press conference ‘We had a better deal two days ago’. You moron! You can’t say that! ‘Oh why didn’t you wait till Thursday?’ ‘Oh cause we had a better deal two days ago?’

Ross: It was getting worse.

Barling: Are you serious? Bro… I don’t even know what to say. If you’re a Kings fan, you should absolutely be embarrassed by that. That was awful. That was absolutely awful. You cannot do that. You can’t do that. Awful. That’s awful dude. Absolutely incredible.

Barling was upset with the way the Kings front office handled the Cousins trade. The majority of media outlets across the nation have painted the Kings organization as being in over their collective heads, and the KHTK host was echoing what many others thought and felt of the franchise’s top executives.

Except there was one small problem – KHTK is the radio home and play by play partner of the Sacramento Kings.

The Sacramento Bee reached out to KHTK for a comment on the situation and were told “We respect the right of all of our on-air hosts and employees to voice their professional opinions on a range of topics. However, we do not condone malicious personal attacks on or from anyone. Comments of that nature do not reflect the views or sportsmanlike conduct of this station”.

Truth be told, I know program director Kevin Sherrets who the quote was attributed to (even though it was an official statement from the station, not one from Sherrets), and like him a lot. He’s a good guy with good intentions, who wants to help his brand make an impact in the community, and I have no doubt he’s trying to do the best he can to manage a difficult situation. Only he and his market manager Steve Cottingim know how the Kings front office feel about the situation and whether there was or wasn’t a request for more action to be taken against Barling.

But what’s troubling in this situation is the prior track record of KHTK when it’s involved members of its on-air staff speaking out negatively against the Kings. It should be noted that these past issues have taken place under the watch of multiple program directors, so this isn’t a reflection on Sherrets.

Former reporter John Dickinson, who now works for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco said he was pulled off the air multiple times by management after being critical of the team under previous owners the Maloof family.

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Former KHTK program director and morning personality Don Geronimo said on Twitter that management operate this way consistently when it involves criticism of the Kings.

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KNBR 1050 morning host Drew Hoffar, who previously held numerous stints on the Sacramento sports station said you pay the price if you’re not on board with the way the Kings do business.

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Now maybe it’s entirely possible that all three former station employees have bitter feelings towards their former employer, but given the events of the past week, it’s hard to ignore that there might be some truth behind their words.

In analyzing Barling’s commentary, I felt 95% of what he said was fair game. He felt passionately about the subject, there were mixed reviews on the trade, and he had a right to communicate to the audience that he thought the organization failed and embarrassed themselves by acknowledging they had a better offer on the table two days earlier for Cousins.

Where Barling screwed up was when he proceeded to call Vlade Divac a moron. To those on the outside looking in, that may seem small, but when you’re in business with someone, especially in a one-team town, you have to be careful with the way you criticize a key figure of an organization on your airwaves. You can attack Divac’s performance and job qualifications but there’s no need to get personal.

Had Barling said something like “Vlade Divac proved he is not equipped to be the Kings General Manager. You can not publicly admit that you had a better trade offer two days ago. You just can’t. It tells the entire league and your fan base that you didn’t execute your best and right now I have no confidence and am utterly disgusted with the way he handled this situation. This is an embarrassment of epic proportions and makes me question whether or not this team will win in the future with him making important decisions on behalf of this organization“, it’d be very difficult to remove him from the air. The commentary remains strong, but avoids any personal references.

That said, there is another part to this story to take into consideration.

People are human. They make mistakes. They mean well, but sometimes say things the wrong way. I’m a big believer in personal track records and accountability. If an employee is under fire for saying something that ruffled a few feathers, and has been consistently dependable, respectful and responsible, then you often give them the benefit of the doubt.

In this case, Barling had not been removed from the airwaves at any point since joining KHTK last April. He also worked for CBS Sacramento from 2001-2008 which tells me he wouldn’t have been employed for 7 years the first time, and re-hired in a bigger position in 2016 if he didn’t have a decent reputation inside the company.

Ironically, the word Barling used on the air (moron) to describe Divac, is a word that afternoon host Grant Napear has used many times in a colorful way to describe callers who make points he doesn’t agree with. It seems bizarre that the word would be allowed to describe a member of the audience during the course of an entertaining afternoon show, yet be considered inflammatory and worthy of suspension when utilized against the Kings GM after a controversial trade which has the majority of the market confused or angry.

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If the only thing in question from this incident was one specific sentence during a passionate commentary, that could have been easily fixed by having a face to face conversation or by demanding an immediate on-air apology to Divac. The station could have even written up Barling rather than having the story call into question their integrity when it pertains to Kings coverage. Most people I’ve heard from feel the station overreacted, and it’s hard to argue with that given the facts we’ve been aware of, but remember that when situations like this take place, there are often other factors we’re not privy to that could have also played a role in the final outcome. Only the people inside of KHTK’s offices know the true story.

As uncomfortable as these incidents are, they’re not foreign to sports radio executives. As a matter of fact, I addressed a similar situation last year when the Detroit Lions foolishly looked to use the power of their play by play rights to force 97.1 The Ticket to drop Mike Valenti. CBS Detroit wisely retained Valenti and let the Lions walk.

Teams are always seeking more control over the way their franchise is discussed and presented to sports radio audiences. It’s up to the programmer and radio station’s market manager to run interference to allow their people to do what they do best. A host’s job is to deliver honest hard hitting opinions in a responsible way, and without influence from any outside forces. If they’re worried about their job security every time they express a strong critical point of view, you’ll never get the full maximum value out of them, and you’ll compromise your brand’s integrity in the eyes of the audience.

It’s fair to question why upper management even allows it to become a conversation in the first place. Sometimes it’s because the revenue and ratings are so large and the brand association is so valuable that a station executive can’t afford a damaged relationship with one of the station’s most important clients. Other times it’s because they fear confrontation and buckle under pressure.

One thing we lose sight of when doing business with teams is that the only thing we truly own and control is the brand itself. A station can still exist and thrive without a play by play partner, even if the brand’s financial ceiling isn’t as high. Once permission is granted to a team to influence a part of your business, they will look to take advantage of it again. Teams don’t ask a programmer or market manager for their input on free agent decisions, the upcoming draft or the starting lineup, and station executives should be willing to protect their product and people, even if it requires a little bit of friction along the way.

Even more bizarre is why these organizations are so sensitive when it comes to the media sharing a negative opinion about them. Do they think the audience isn’t aware when they’re playing poorly or making bad decisions? If they want it to go away there’s a simple solution, win and make smart business decisions. The majority of media members and fans are hoping for the team to do well, but when they don’t, it’d be irresponsible to not be objective and honest about what’s taking place.

It makes me wonder if the next area to be targeted by teams is the social media space. How long until owners and front office executives are pressuring their new partners, Facebook and Twitter, to prevent negative posts about their teams appearing on other people’s timelines? Don’t think for a second that it can’t or won’t be requested.

I’ve flooded your brain by now with enough of my own points of view on the situation, but I wanted to include a few programmers from different parts of the country who also understand the complexities of this situation. Each of these guys work with stations which have strong play by play partnerships, and I hope you find some of their feedback to be helpful. Who knows, you may be using it to guide you through a future challenge inside your place of employment in the future.

  • Joe Zarbano – WEEI
  • John Mamola – WDAE
  • John Hanson – 610 Sports
  • Ryan Hatch – Arizona Sports 98.7FM

If an employee has no prior history of being in trouble with your radio station and they make an error in their on-air commentary, what is the best way to handle it? (Fire them, suspend them, written warning, on-air apology, ignore it, etc.)

blankHatch: We’re in a unique position in Phoenix where we are the flagship home of the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Coyotes and Arizona State University football and men’s basketball, so these types of situations really hit home as we work closely with more teams than any other station in the country.

How you handle each situation will be unique and dynamic with so many factors. There’s no rule book, except for one thing – never, ever ignore it. That’s the absolute worst thing you can do.

The biggest thing you must have is clear rules of engagement for the hosts and the teams, communicate them effectively to all parties, and demonstrate it regularly. Every one of our personalities wants our team partners to have great success on the field or court. When teams or players are underperforming and deserve criticism, our motto is “be tough but fair, and never personal”.

Our industry is driven by hosts with strong opinions and it’s imperative that we continue to support them, but I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to deliver those opinions. Name calling, cheap shots and personal attacks just won’t fly. Our hosts know it and our team partners know it. And if we cross that line, which does happen, we own it and correct it. But that approach doesn’t just apply to our team partners, it’s in play in everything we do – listeners, advertisers, etc.

Zarbano: I would say it’s very situational. It depends what was said or done. There are circumstances where a host can have no prior record of misconduct but go on the air one day and say something that is unquestionably worthy of suspension or termination. I think logic serves best and PD’s have to consider all the factors.

Mamola: It depends on the severity of the error. Taking the example in Sacramento, assuming the host had no prior history of being in trouble, an on-air apology for calling the GM a “moron” would have been the first thing on my list, in the very next segment. Having an opinion about what goes on the court is 100% legit, but name calling is weak and uncalled for. However, having the host follow up his apology by explaining the passion he has for the team to do well and be a shining beacon for the city of Sacramento, that rings home with the audience and can be a rallying cry for the listeners as well.

Hanson: Every play by play partner is different. Some comments cut deeper than others, and some may have no issue with unfiltered commentaries. If the intention is to smooth things over with your partner, or an individual within that partnership, then you need to apply what will appease them and be reasonable for you. If the comment is strong enough, and the partner is upset enough, suspension wouldn’t be off the table. But I think most reasonable people in a partnership should be able to move on with a personal apology and an adherence to a higher standard in the going forward.

How much influence does a play by play partner deserve when it applies to the radio station’s on-air commentary and presentation?

Hatch: Obviously we’re business partners and we share in each other’s successes – with audience, fans/listeners and revenue. They deserve to be treated professionally and with respect, just like our listeners and advertising partners. Our content management team has regular conversations with our team partners, so we clearly know where they stand on key issues. It’s about access to their perspective more than any formal influence.

blankZarbano: In an ideal world, the play-by-play partner deserves no influence when it applies to the station’s on air commentary. It’s hard to put on entertaining and opinionated radio shows when the hosts are being censored. Your station’s credibility is immediately in jeopardy if an on-air host’s creativity, talent and candor are being restrained. In our new digital world, we know how easy it is for listeners to change the station and consume something else.

It’s also a bad look for the team to require or ask their play-by-play partner to limit the on-air host’s criticism, especially when it’s warranted. All franchises make mistakes (even the Patriots at times) and the best way to handle it in the minds of the fans is to own it and move on. Sensitivity and being defensive is a killer.

Mamola: The program director must establish the playing field with the partners as to the boundaries of what the philosophy behind the commentary is at the beginning. If it’s all about what goes on with the team on the field, fair game. If there is anything outside the actual playing field, that’s where the station (in some cases) should reach out to the partner first to see if they have a comment first before taking things to the air. The more work done in the background when it comes to off the field issues, the stronger the partnership and more comfort you’ll have when you hit the air. You just can’t make it personal.

Hanson: They get no influence. You have the power to decide how important your relationship with the play by play partner is to your brand. Is it worth it to risk the relationship over a two second comment? Or for the need to be completely unfiltered for your audience? Maybe an unfiltered approach is what you think gives you the best chance to win. Or maybe your station has such a strong position in the market that you can afford to do that, knowing the team needs you. But I also understand those that find a healthy relationship with their partner to be vital to the overall long term success of the station, and the need to make sure that relationship stays healthy.

What do you do if the team (one of your most important assets) wants things handled differently than the way you think they should be done? 

Hatch: Discuss it openly and honestly. It’s absolutely critical to have strong relationships with high level executives with your team partners. There are going to be times when things are said on the air that ruffle feathers, and when the interests of the station and the team don’t align. If you’re out in front of it and have good relationships, it makes it a lot easier to navigate the rough waters.

Zarbano: You have a conversation and reason with them so they can also see your side of things. Hopefully at the end of the day, the two parties can come to some sort of understanding. There’s always a deal to be made.

Mamola: You allow the partner the forum for a discussion so their voice be heard. That allows you to hear their feedback, explain your position, and have a productive conversation. However, the PD is the one who directs the programming of the radio station, and more often than not, the PD or the market manager may have to remind the partner of that. The more leg work you do in the beginning with the partner, the easier the relationship is to manage. Always invite the partner to converse with you, and only you, when it comes to programming issues they’d like to discuss.

blankHanson: Those issues can be resolved before problems pop up. Have a discussion with your partner to establish where you each see what constitutes “out of bounds”, and come to a consensus. In many cases the differences will be clear between when things are said that are personal and when they’re not. And again, scratch all of that if you choose the unfiltered route. Then I’d just explain to my partner, that unfiltered opinion is what you need to do to win. They can then decide if they want to keep you as a partner at renewal time, and how they’ll treat you in the interim.

What advice can you pass along to other programmers and/or market managers who find themselves in this situation in the future?

Hatch: My advice for all content managers would be to spend time nurturing team relationships and when your hosts do cross whatever boundaries you set, be quick to engage in direct conversation to quickly resolve. And don’t pay more attention and love them up only when they are winning, but be just as present and engaged when the team is struggling.

Zarbano: Any type of censorship of hosts when it comes to professional sports franchises is a killer for the sports talk format. Your hosts can’t effectively do what they do best when they are being restricted because an organization can’t take the heat after making a bad trade. Do whatever you can to avoid this. Your audience is smart and will see right through it.

blankMamola: Don’t be afraid to walk in during the break and address any comments immediately. That way you can question/converse about what was said in the moment and get a better more productive outcome following the break for the rest of the show. That also sets the tone for where the program can/cannot go for the remainder of the broadcast. Then whatever follows can be handled with the notion that the comments were addressed immediately.

Hanson: Establish a clear expectation for fair game with all staff before each season. It may change from year to year or it may stay the same. You may have no expectations other than to be completely unfiltered. It takes the guessing out of questioning whether a comment violated the understanding or not.

Barrett Blogs

Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, Don Martin, Sam Pines and Amanda Brown to Speak at the 2023 BSM Summit

“All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers and bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room.”

Jason Barrett

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I announced last week that the 2023 BSM Summit will be returning to Los Angeles. We had a fantastic experience in LA in 2019, and I expect our next conference on March 21-22, 2023 to be even bigger and better. But to do that, we need the right people on stage, and I’m excited today to reveal the first six additions to the show.

The 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles is proud to welcome FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 host Colin Cowherd, FOX Sports 1 co-host of the new weekday program SPEAK, Joy Taylor, CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network superstar Jim Rome, FOX Sports Radio and iHeart Sports SVP of Programming, Don Martin, and the brain trust of ESPN LA 710, Senior Vice President Sam Pines and program director Amanda Brown.

All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers. They bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room, and I’m sure those in attendance at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC will enjoy and appreciate learning from them.

We will have more announcements in the future about additional speakers to the 2023 BSM Summit. A reminder that if you work in the media industry and would like to attend the conference, you can purchase tickets and secure your hotel room by visiting BSMSummit.com.

I’d also like to thank last year’s sponsors who have already confirmed participation in our 2023 event. The Summit isn’t possible without their support. For folks interested in sponsorship details for the conference, please email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now here’s some press information about each of our six participants.

Colin Cowherd: He is one of the most thought-provoking and successful sports talk show hosts in the country, and has been a key part of FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 since September 2015. He is also the founder of The Volume, a digital-first sports media brand which has created an immediate impact in podcasting and on YouTube.

Cowherd’s three-hour sports talk program, THE HERD WITH COLIN COWHERD, airs simultaneously on FS1 and the FOX Sports Radio Network weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET. It is also available on www.FOXSportsRadio.comwww.FOXSports.com and has a dedicated iHeartRadio station, available live and throughout the day. The Herd has been chosen by industry programmers and executives as the top national sports talk radio show an unprecedented six times in seven years as part of BSM’s annual Top 20 series.

Jim Rome: Jim Rome is heard nationwide hosting ‘The Jim Rome Show‘ weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET on CBS Sports Radio. The program can also be watched on the CBS Sports Network. The show delivers three hours of aggressive, informed sports opinions, rapid-fire dialogue, tons of sports smack, and is consistently supported by Rome’s legions of fans otherwise known as the clones.

Rome also delivers his unique take on the day’s sports headlines via the CBS Sports Minute, 60-second commentaries which can be heard hourly on CBS Sports Radio affiliate stations. He also hosts his own podcast, The Reinvention Project, contributes to CBS Sports television, and has previously been seen on ESPN, FOX Sports, and in numerous movies and TV shows.

Joy Taylor: Joy Taylor co-hosts FS1’s new weekday program SPEAK alongside Emmanuel Acho and former NFL running back LeSean McCoy. She has previously worked as a co-host on THE HERD, as the moderator of SKIP AND SHANNON: UNDISPUTED, and as the host of her own podcast, “Maybe I’m Crazy”. She has also hosted programs for FOX Sports Radio.

Prior to joining FOX Sports, Taylor spent five years in Miami radio, including a successful three-year stint at 790 AM The Ticket, where she was co-host for the station’s top-rated morning-drive program, “Zaslow and Joy Show,” after starting with the station as the show’s executive producer. Taylor also served as the host of “Thursday Night Live” and “Fantasy Football Today” on CBSSports.com. She is a Pittsburgh native and the younger sister of former Miami Dolphins star Jason Taylor.

Don Martin: A 27-year veteran of iHeartMedia, Don is currently the SVP of Programming for FOX Sports Radio, the EVP for iHeartMedia Sports, and the SVP of KLAC-AM 570 LA Sports. Additionally, he provides oversight of the iHeartPodcast Network, which includes more than 40 national and 100 local sports podcasts and exclusive podcast agreements with the NFL and NBA. Don has been a featured speaker at prior BSM Summit’s and was recently a guest on The Jason Barrett Podcast. To hear it, click here.

Sam Pines: A fixture with Good Karma Brands since 2000, Pines is now charged with leading ESPN LA 710 since GKB assumed control of local operations. Prior to taking over the Los Angeles sports brand, Pines served as the GM and Sales Manager of ESPN Cleveland from 2006-2022. He has written a sales and leadership series, “Time to Win”, which focuses on coaching relationship-based selling and marketing, and is also involved with numerous boards and nonprofits.

Amanda Brown: Amanda has spent her entire twenty year career in sports radio working for the worldwide leader in sports. Currently responsible for creating and implementing the programming strategy for ESPN LA 710, Amanda has enjoyed nearly twelve years with the LA based brand after spending nearly six years in Bristol, CT producing national shows for the ESPN Radio network. Her career started behind the scenes in Dallas, TX where she worked as a producer at ESPN 103.3.

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Barrett Blogs

7 Years of BSM and The Official Announcement For The 2023 BSM Summit

“Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations.”

Jason Barrett

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Apologies in advance if some of this column feels like I’m giving myself and our brand a pat on the back. I am. When this company launched, many assumed I was just writing a few articles and biding my time until another programming job popped up. I had a number of friends say ‘there’s no future in sports radio consulting‘ and after putting my programming career in the rear view mirror to go home to NY, I wasn’t sure what was in store for me.

What I did know is that my interest in doing the same thing that I just did for the past decade in three different cities was gone, but my interest in working with brands and individuals was still very much alive. I loved creating and programming 95.7 The Game but my choice to come home was driven by personal reasons, not professional. I wrote in great detail about it back in February 2015 so if you’re not aware of my story and want to know more, click the link.

Some of you do know these details already so I’m not going to repeat myself. I also don’t like talking on this website about personal issues because that’s not what brings us together each day. Media news, insight, and opinion does. But when this day rolls around each year, I hope you can understand why I take a moment to celebrate it. I moved home with no job, no plan, and no business but 7 years later, here we are are still ticking.

Launching this company has been the best professional decision I’ve ever made. Erika Nardini just had this conversation recently with Mark Cuban and he said taking a leap when you have nothing is the best time to do so. As crazy as that sounds, he couldn’t have been more right. That said, it’s pretty humbling going from successfully managing a top 4 market brand and earning six figures to being unemployed with no income and not being sure what you want to do. There were many days where I wondered ‘what was this all for?’. I hadn’t been without a job for a long time but I didn’t want to rush into something I wasn’t excited about especially since I knew I had to take care of my son and wanted to set a good example for him.

When I announced I was leaving San Francisco, I said I’d consider staying with the company if a position could be created that would allow me to work from NY and travel to help brands. Entercom back then wasn’t as big as Audacy is now, so that wasn’t an option. That led to small talk about consulting but quite frankly, I had no interest in doing that. I thought consulting was something folks did at the end of their careers or others used as a temporary excuse to explain what they were up to after leaving a job. I was 41 at the time and felt I had two decades left to give to the business, and if I was going to go down that road, I’d do it differently.

As I began to clear my head and think about what was next, I decided I was going to create the position that Entercom didn’t have available except rather than being exclusive to one group, I’d be accessible to all of them. I wanted to make a difference in multiple cities and expand my reach beyond radio. Now I work with brands involved in radio, TV, podcasting, social media, sales, sports betting, etc..

I’m also very entrepreneurial, so the idea of building a digital company that focused on covering the sports media business had great appeal to me. I built my radio career by doing everything early on and saw that as an advantage. Back in 2015, there were outlets covering the radio business, but none dedicated to sports radio. Even the newspapers that wrote about sports TV and other media issues, often examined them with folks who hadn’t been on the inside for quite some time. I had recent experiences programming brands in three different parts of the country, I learned how to build a website, I didn’t mind selling myself, and I wasn’t restricted from writing and sharing my honest and candid opinions. That helped me give BSM life and a voice. I also had one other advantage. I was talking weekly with industry people, going to different cities to work with multiple groups and seeing up close why certain things worked and others didn’t. That helped me tell better stories, build deeper relationships, and assist clients with greater knowledge.

Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations. I’ve been presented with opportunities to work with groups I never expected. I’ve had people reach out to present opportunities, including purchasing the company, that others would be shocked were considered (Btw I’m not looking to sell). Our brand now generates hundreds of thousands in traffic per month thanks to an exceptional team of 20 writers which produces 35-40 pieces of content per day on the sports and news media industry. In fact, August was our best month of traffic this year. We were up 30% year over year. We create 5 podcasts per week, distribute multiple newsletters, consult a strong amount of media brands, sell and work with advertising partners to help grow their businesses, deliver content through social media channels that are followed by thousands of people, and host an annual conference, which is well attended and supported by industry professionals and broadcast companies.

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Which brings me to the next part of this column – the 2023 BSM Summit.

After hosting our last two shows in New York City, I told all in attendance that our next event would return to the west coast. Finding the right city and venue takes time, and this one was tough because there were great options in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but after reviewing the possibilities, I’m thrilled to share that the 2023 BSM Summit will take place in Los Angeles, California at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California. The dates will be Tuesday March 21st and Wednesday March 22nd (we didn’t want to do dates that conflicted with the NCAA Tournament). Show time both days will once again be 9a-5p PT.

I couldn’t be happier with this location. The space we have to work with is fantastic, the people involved with USC have been great, and to bring a room full of sports media professionals to the USC campus will be awesome. We’ve also partnered with the USC Hotel which is within walking distance of our venue. Room rates and ticket prices for the Summit can now be found on BSMSummit.com.

I know everyone will start texting, emailing, calling, and DM’ing to ask about tickets, speakers, sponsorships, the after-party and awards show, etc.. I’ll have follow up announcements coming soon about the first few speakers we’ve lined up. Most people attended the 2022 show live, but some checked out the show virtually too. I’m not sure yet if we’re going to make this one available virtually. If we do, we’ll announce it on the site at a later time. Like anything, if enough people want it we’ll find a way to get it done. In the meantime, Stephanie Eads is setting up conversations with former and future conference partners so if you have a sponsorship question, hit her up by email at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

One thing I do want to ask of those who are planning to attend the Summit, email me to let me know what you’re interested in learning about at the show. We’ve been blessed to have some incredibly smart, successful people in the room, but as cool as that may be, I want to make sure folks return to their buildings afterwards with information to improve their operations. This only works if you take the knowledge and use it to help your brands and people. If anything in particular is of interest, please let me know by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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As I look ahead to year 8, I’m extremely bullish on continuing our momentum on the sports media side. We’ve just added Eddie Moran as a new features writer, and if it makes business sense to add more writers or create additional podcasts down the line, we’ll examine those opportunities as they arise. A few years ago it was just Demetri and I running the day to day business. Now we have Stephanie, Andy, Garrett Searight, Arky Shea, Alex Reynolds, and Eduardo Razo involved, and though having a larger staff doesn’t guarantee success, I like how we’re positioned. If anything, our focus now is on doing impactful work not busy work. As much as I’d love to keep everyone and never stop adding, running a business effectively requires regularly examining what is and isn’t working. Having people involved who are passionate and consistently reliable is vital. If they can’t be then it means the fit isn’t right.

Having said that, I believe we can always get better. As we move ahead, I’m counting on my team to find and create more original content, strengthen and increase relationships, gain a stronger grasp of SEO, and collectively, we’ll work on improving our digital marketing to promote our content and develop better affiliate partnerships. One way the industry can help us in return, let us know when you create something on-air that might fit the site. Most of what we gather comes from finding it ourselves yet content gets created daily on sports TV and radio. We’re not going to write stories about sports opinions but if it’s media-centric, a heads up helps. So too does sharing our content on social media.

Though BSM is an integral part of our company’s future growth, I am equally as bullish on building Barrett News Media. We started BNM on September 14, 2020 and our first year was slow. We needed to dip our toe in rather than dive in head first, but over the past 9 months we’ve increased our relationships and our readers are now starting to see what we’re capable of. We’ve assembled a strong cast of news writers, reporters, and columnists, and just added to our team last week with the addition of Joe Salzone. Adding writers and consulting clients remains an ongoing process, and make no mistake about this, I want to help news/talk stations just as I have helped sports brands. Maybe down the line we’ll add a few news media podcasts too, but we have other things to focus on first.

For starters, if you’ve read this website over the years then you’re likely familiar with the BSM Top 20. It’s a series we produce recognizing the best in the sports media industry. It’s voted on by a large number of sports radio programmers and executives, and for 6 years in a row it has been our website’s largest traffic driver. I thought previously about doing a series for the news media industry, but because we had less help, little time, and an unfamiliar brand, I held off.

But that’s about to change.

Later this year, we will introduce the very first BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will include voting participation from news media programmers and executives, with the goal being to showcase the best national radio shows and podcasts, and the top local stations, shows, and PD’s from both the major and mid markets.

It will be a giant undertaking but it’s long overdue for our brand. Though I’m sure the process will be exhausting, I’m looking forward to sharing the results and shining a brighter light on the news/talk media business. When I’m ready to announce the dates and schedule for the series, we’ll reveal it here on the site and across our BNM social media channels. Stay tuned.

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As I bring this column to an end, I’ll end by sharing a few things that have surprised me over the years. First, I’m seeing less interest the past 3 years from younger people becoming programmers than I did between 2015-2019. Is that because of the pandemic? The rise of sports gambling? A lack of confidence in the radio industry? As someone who’s helped 15-20 brands find and hire brand leaders, and talks to more people than most, that’s concerning.

I think sports radio also needs to do a better job of grooming people for these roles and showing them a path to long-term success. PD’s should be more actively championing their people for growth too than they do. If you value someone and want to see him or her reap the rewards for their hard work, you have to look beyond how it’ll affect your day to day duties. Focus on the big picture, not just what makes your life easier.

What should concern executives is the fact that in the past five years, sports radio has lost Armen Williams, Jeremiah Crowe, Joe Zarbano, Adam Delevitt, Tony DiGiacomo, Terry Foxx, Brad Willis, Chris Baker, Tom Parker, Jay Taylor, Kyle Engelhart, Hoss Neupert, and John Hanson. I’m sure I’m missing a few too. That’s a lot of programming experience out the door including some with decades left to give to the industry. Maybe some weren’t built for the job long-term or others were kicking down the door and ready to lead but in most businesses, if you saw that type of change in key management roles, you’d be questioning if it’s an industry you want to be a part of. If the veterans don’t stay or become too expensive, and the leaders of tomorrow aren’t sticking around, where does that leave us?

From the talent end, how are you helping yourself when there isn’t a job to chase? If the only time you contact a PD is to ask about a gig, don’t be surprised when your calls go straight to voicemail. Relationships are a two-way street. Build them when there’s nothing to be gained and you’ll be amazed at how it pays off later. By the way, that goes for me too. I get asked by a lot of people to find time when there’s trouble in paradise but when life is good, crickets. Those who keep in touch and support BSM/BNM whether that’s through a monthly membership or buying a Summit ticket have more success getting a hold of me. I’m not trying to be a hard ass but I’m not an agent, so building your career isn’t my priority. Taking care of my family and business partners is. However, I do help people and make time for many, but it’s got to work both ways. My members and clients know they can ask for something and receive an answer. Others I’ve built and maintained relationships with receive the same. But if you’re counting on me to help you find work and gossip about the business with you, I’m not your guy.

If there’s been a winner the past 7 years it’s been the growth of sports betting. As other categories have produced less, sports betting has emerged as an important growth driver for the sports format. And this has happened with most of the country not even legal yet. As more states give the green light to legalize sports gambling, revenues and content opportunities should follow. We will likely reach a point where consolidation comes into play and certain brands and companies overload their content in a way that makes them insufferable to listen to but for every few setbacks there are far greater reasons to be optimistic. In the past 7 years we’ve seen Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube become big players in sports television. Might FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers, Fanatics, Barstool and others do the same in the sports media space? That’s going to be an interesting follow for sure.

Knowing how everything can change in an instant, I take nothing for granted with BSM and BNM. This could all end tomorrow, and if it did, I’d look back on it as the best days of my professional life. I want to keep growing as a professional, while remaining an asset to my current partners, and finding ways to work with new brands and companies in both sports and news media. I’m also enjoying hosting a podcast again, and if you haven’t checked out The Jason Barrett Podcast, the latest episode with Colin Cowherd is a good one to start with.

The future for sports and news media may change but both will remain viable and important. I love that we’ve been able to be a small part of this business each day for the past 7 years, and I hope to make the next 7 years as fulfilling as the past 7. If I’m able to do that, it’ll mean the 20 years I spent in studios were needed to make a nationwide impact from a home office.

So on behalf of our entire team, past and present, thank you for reading the twenty thousand pieces of content we’ve produced since 2015. None of this is possible without an army of BSM/BNM supporters. I hope to see you in Los Angeles this March for the 2023 BSM Summit.

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The Podcast Movement Conference Made a Mistake Rejecting Ben Shapiro

“If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease?”

Jason Barrett

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I’ve had the pleasure of attending multiple Podcast Movement Conferences over the years. Those involved in putting the event together do a fantastic job creating an action packed agenda full of accomplished speakers, and the visual displays and access to different brands and industry professionals have always been nothing but positive. It’s why I was disappointed this year when my schedule didn’t allow for me to make the trip to Dallas.

So imagine my surprise late last week when I learned the conference took a stance against Westwood One radio host and co-founder of The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro

Shapiro’s company was a sponsor of this year’s show, and according to reports, the well known podcaster and radio host wasn’t registered for the event. He made a brief appearance at his company’s booth, shaking hands and taking photos with fans who stopped by to say hi, and his mere presence at the show led to some protesting his involvement on social media.

After learning Shapiro had stopped by, the Podcast Movement Conference posted a series of tweets which said “Hi folks, we owe you an apology before sessions kick off for the day. Yesterday afternoon, Ben Shapiro briefly visited the PM22 expo area near The Daily Wire booth. Though he was not registered or expected, we take full responsibility for the harm done by his presence.”

The conference added, “Those of you who called this “unacceptable” are right. In 9 wonderful years growing and celebrating this medium, PM has made mistakes. The pain caused by this one will always stick with us. We promise that sponsors will be more carefully considered moving forward. No TDW representatives were scheduled to appear on panels, and Shapiro remained in the common space and did not have a badge. If you have questions, we’re here to talk. Thank you for reading, and we hope you’ll continue to join us from here on out.”

A quick search shows that Shapiro has one of the top performing podcasts on the charts. According to Westwood One, it is downloaded over fifteen million times per month. In addition, his radio program is carried on hundreds of radio stations, he has 13 million followers combined between Facebook and Twitter, and his company, The Daily Wire, adds another 5.5 million supporters to the mix. They also showed they were supportive of the conference by making a financial commitment to sponsor a booth.

Having explained all of that I was stunned that the Podcast Movement Conference took this position. Let me be clear, it was a mistake. Their stance has led to a flood of negative attention over the past 72 hours, and it all could’ve easily been avoided. Though their next event is still a year away, given how much attention this story has received, it could have a carry over effect on future sponsorships and attendance. Only time will tell.

As someone who runs an annual conference, albeit much smaller, I know how hard it is to put an event together. What the Podcast Movement organizers put together each year requires a herculean effort, which is why I’m baffled that they picked sides in this situation. The media industry is large and full of people, brands and companies with different views and approaches to business and everyday life. The second you start judging and making decisions based on personal beliefs and/or social media activity, you’re in trouble.

I’ve long maintained that if someone works in the sports media industry and wishes to learn and share information to help improve the business, they’re welcome at our BSM Summit. We make changes to our schedule each year based on what we feel is topical for the attendees but we don’t discriminate, support one brand over another or allow personal views to dictate if someone can or can’t be present.

Case in point, at our March conference, I had a few people privately upset that I asked Craig Carton to speak. Craig’s prior arrest and time served in jail is well documented. First, I have a ton of respect for what Craig has accomplished, and I believe in second chances, but personal views aside, he’s the afternoon host in the nation’s largest market working for WFAN, a top rated sports radio brand. History has shown that he’s damn good and successful, and more than qualified to speak on the subjects we cover at our event. When a few folks expressed their displeasure with my decision I told them ‘If you’re not a fan of Craig, don’t attend that session. If it bothers you beyond that, I understand if you can’t attend the show.’

Quieting the noise gets easier when you focus strictly on the business. Making everyone happy is impossible when you organize an event, but if you allow multiple viewpoints to be present in the room, you end up in a decent place more times than not.

You also have to remember that social media can make things appear worse than they are. Is the issue you’re dealing with being raised by conference partners and supporters who attend the event each year or from someone who’s not in the building and thrives on creating a social media firestorm for the causes they oppose and fight against?

Some may recall that I dealt with a few headaches in 2019 prior to our LA Summit after folks involved with groups that had no interest or desire to attend our show started trying to create a controversy out of nothing. Though it was frustrating playing defense on Christmas night when individuals from the New York Times, Deadspin and WNBA teams started poking holes in our conference’s flyer, I learned an important lesson. As long as you do the right thing and have the support and trust of your friends, family, attendees, and partners, who cares what others think or say who don’t know you and aren’t in the room for your event.

That’s what I don’t understand here. Is Shapiro not one of the most successful podcasters out there? Was his company not a paying partner of the event? If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease? Most would roll out a red carpet for someone with Shapiro’s track record of success not publicly condemn them for showing up and sponsoring the show. I know I would. I’d also do the same for someone who’s equally successful and views the world the exact opposite way.

I can’t help but wonder how folks at Westwood One feel about this incident. Don’t they promote and support this conference and include their people in the event? Think they might object to one of their top personalities being treated this way? Furthermore, how about the talk radio format? It’s no secret that most of the programming on news/talk radio stations leans right. A number of top performing podcasts follow a similar path. It’s safe to say that most in the format are going to support Shapiro, and I don’t think that helps the conference with attracting future business and participation.

To be clear, I don’t listen to Ben Shapiro’s podcast or radio show, and I don’t read The Daily Wire. I only point that out because I don’t want anyone to assume that I’m supporting him because of personal interests or a professional relationship. We’ve never spoke or crossed paths. My opinion is based solely on the facts surrounding this situation, nothing else.

That said, I understand Ben has shared opinions that some take offense to and I don’t blame those folks for not wanting to be around him. But there’s a simple solution, don’t go near him or his booth. It’s the same thing I tell people who don’t like a particular radio station’s hosts or a piece of content on our website; if you don’t like it, don’t read or listen to it. The Podcast Movement Conference takes place in a large convention center. There’s more than enough room to keep everyone separated and happy. Last time I checked, there were attendees in the room who stopped by to meet Ben at his booth. Do they not count?

Look, you don’t have to agree with Shapiro, but this is a podcasting business conference, and it’s something he’s done at a higher level than most. That qualifies him to be there. You can’t get in the middle and start determining who is and isn’t allowed in based on personal beliefs or trying to please agenda driven people on social media. Would Podcast Movement tell Joe Rogan, one of the most successful podcasters out there, that he couldn’t attend if people who didn’t like his views on Covid-19 protested? What’s next, not giving out industry awards to stations and individuals who we don’t like or agree with? When does the insanity end?

Here’s the reality, there are likely other sponsors and attendees in the room who have views that some may consider offensive. Our content and advertisers aren’t just supported by good, honest people. There are thousands, if not millions, who listen and support us who are shady, sick, and morally bankrupt. That’s beyond our control. Our job is to inform and entertain, and make people care enough to come back regularly. If we do that well, sponsors will follow. Keep those things happening, and everyone remains satisfied.

Moving forward, the Podcast Movement Conference has to decide if it wants to be open to all or only to some. I root for the conference to do well. I’ve enjoyed attending previous shows and hope to attend future ones. But if they expect to maintain support and enjoy future growth, learning from this situation is important. There’s much more money in staying neutral than alienating one side of the room.

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