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When Rivalries Exist, Everything Matters More

Jason Barrett

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Opinions about ESPN’s programming have been mixed over the past few years, but few have found fault with the network’s 30 for 30 series. And for good reason. It’s without question one of the best pieces of programming ESPN offers. The latest documentary of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is a prime example.

If you watched the three part series then you’re well aware of what I’m talking about. If not, do yourself a favor and block out a few hours to get caught up. It’s absolutely worth your time.

As I watched the documentary last Tuesday and Wednesday night, a few things stuck with me. I began thinking about why the rivalry between those two franchises was so special. Sports fans often mention how the Lakers-Celtics rivalry helped save the NBA, and it’s no surprise that the league grew its attendance, sponsors, and television presence during that time period. What was once considered a league with limited upside, became hip, cool and exciting, and it set the table for future stars to come along and help advance the game to an even higher level.

What made this story compelling was that it involved two teams with a ton of skill and star power. They were led by two charismatic superstars with an insatiable desire to win, who to this day remain among the best I’ve ever witnessed perform on a basketball court. They also represented two very different cities and races and brought a unique style of play to their respective franchises. When the verbal offerings and prior histories of both organizations were added to the equation, it amplified the animosity each team and its players had for one another.

But it wasn’t until Los Angeles won the NBA championship on Boston’s home court in 1985 that the rivalry rose to a different level. Up to that point, the Celtics had dominated the competition, winning all 8 matchups against Los Angeles. It may have infuriated Los Angeles basketball fans that their beloved franchise couldn’t get over the hump against Boston, but fans on the other side had little reason to believe the Lakers would prevail. Once Celtics players and fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouth, forced to watch the Lakers celebrate, the tension grew and the stakes were magnified.

To hear Pat Riley, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis and Magic Johnson share how deep their hatred for the Celtics runs, even to this day, reminds you of what makes rivalries powerful. Those same feelings were shared on the other side from Danny Ainge, M.L Carr, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird towards the Lakers. Winning may have mattered most but doing it against an arch nemesis made it more important and that much sweeter.

When people care deeply about winning, value competition, and know that a legitimate opponent could derail them from achieving their goal, it makes everyone push a little bit harder. It makes great players like Magic Johnson challenge themselves to elevate their game to another level. It forces every coach and player to treat each possession like it could alter the outcome of a ball game.

That’s what competition is all about. Great players, coaches, and teams rise to the occasion. Others crumble when they feel the pressure.

When I reflect back on the Lakers-Celtics story I can’t help but think about how it applies to sports radio. Every quarter hour on the air is an opportunity to form a connection with an audience or send them away. Great talent treat their opportunities with a sense of urgency. Marginal players do not.

But it goes even deeper than executing content consistently.

Most sports radio folks don’t study their opponents. They focus on themselves. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in order to take advantage of a competitor’s weaknesses you have to know what they are and then craft your strategy to best help yourself.

The other issue worth raising is how many in sports radio operate in silence. They head into a building, develop a rundown, execute it on the air, and then head home. They don’t publicly celebrate victories or display ill will towards competing radio stations, unless the individual has gone thru a bad personal experience working for them. Radio people are more worried about keeping the peace and maintaining good relationships for future professional reasons than creating headlines and ruffling the feathers of rivals, co-workers and corporate folks.

But for a rivalry to reach its full potential the audience has to know and feel it on the airwaves. It also has to be felt internally by every member of the radio station. Sometimes that means not being afraid to let it be known why you believe your product and people are superior and the competitor is inferior.

How many times have we seen a media personality offer a strong opinion about another host or station and instantly the buzz and chatter produces increased audience interest and engagement? It doesn’t just occur on-air either. Your account executives are doing it with clients too. Sometimes they take the high road when discussing competitors with potential advertisers, other times they may deliver a verbal uppercut.

Is it any coincidence that the press for ESPN and FS1 has increased since the two brands and their employees began offering unfiltered opinions on the state of each product? Look in Boston and Philadelphia at the way media coverage intensified once WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub and WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic began waging battle. If you watch political television, you’ve seen this executed on a daily basis whether you’ve watched CNN, MSNBC or FOX News. And whether it’s been Mike and the Mad Dog, Bill Simmons, Howard Stern, Steve Jobs or Eric Bischoff, many others in various businesses have used the same exact strategy.

To be honest, I wish we had a little more of it in sports radio. There are many cities with 2-3 sports stations yet the buzz for their local competitive battles is minimal. That may be a reflection of the market or the personalities of the individuals involved, but when the audience feels the stakes are raised and they have an influence on the outcome, it becomes more interesting and entertaining.

I’ve told this to numerous folks I’ve talked to over the years, people will always be fascinated by other people. If an on-air talent possesses an ability to create drama on a daily basis, they stand a greater chance of engaging an audience and increasing their ratings. Stats, information, and interaction are all nice, but thought provoking opinions which pierce the skin of others and demand a response will always produce a higher level of interest.

Isn’t that a big part of why we love sports? The game may be the main event but it’s all the hype and drama before and afterwards that keeps the conversation alive and makes the result matter. If emotions didn’t run high and players didn’t express themselves about various situations, the world of sports would be a lot less fun, intense, and compelling.

Speaking for myself, when I operated brands I had no room in my soul for positive sentiments towards those I competed against. I may have respected them and understood why they were successful but to be my best and exhaust the most out of my teams I needed to mentally invest myself in beating them. That may not work for everyone, but when you can paint a picture in your mind of the competitor taking food off your child’s plate and money out of your bank account, I promise you it becomes easier to push yourself towards knocking them off.

Mark Cuban once said “work like someone is working twenty four hours a day to take it all away from you” and that has always been my mindset. I didn’t move to new cities to make friends or enjoy new scenery. Nor was I worried about what competitors thought of me or anything I said or did to gain an edge. My focus was on hiring talented people and creating a vision to help my brands connect and produce results. The thought of failing didn’t exist because I believe that once you allow room for the potential of failure to occupy space inside your mind, you’re already defeated.

Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens offered a great line this week when he said “the guys in Philadelphia want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about results.” That’s how most business people think and operate. If you can achieve success while being friendly with everyone, great. If it requires being more aggressive and unfiltered, so be it. Either way, it’s all about productivity.

The majority of sports media members I’ve been around want to be great and win the ratings book. If another brand or individual is preventing them from reaching their destination, it’s not uncommon for them to develop a mean streak and offer strong opinions about them. We too often worry about playing nice and keeping our noses clean but winning in business sometimes requires getting dirty. It’s why Kevin McHale didn’t hesitate to take down Kurt Rambis with a hard clothesline in the 1984 NBA Finals. It may not have been popular, but it let the Lakers know that Boston wouldn’t be intimidated. Once the Celtics gained the mental edge, the Lakers never recovered.

I know a number of on-air performers who are extremely talented and successful yet some programmers wouldn’t hire them because they rock the boat with certain things they say in public or on social media. If it’s interesting, accurate, and creates additional buzz and engagement for the radio station, why is that a bad thing? We preach the importance of authenticity, honesty, being fearless and living one’s life on the radio, but when industry people or issues are brought to the forefront, we get nervous and look to muzzle our best talent.

There’s obviously a big difference between being irresponsible and offensive, and discussing uncomfortable subjects and firing public jabs against members of the brotherhood. But when the stakes are high, all is fair in love and war. Jesse Ventura used to say “win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat” and while I don’t believe in cheating to win, there’s also no radio playbook which says you must play nice and shake hands with the opponent.

Business is cutthroat. When you operate in a results oriented industry where money is gained or lost each day, you can’t be afraid to upset the norm. If it means calling out an opponent and in doing so alienating a future employment option, you can’t be afraid to take a risk to win. If you have the skill and backbone to back up your words, and a sound reason to support your position, the competitor may hate hearing it and continue disliking you and your approach, but they’ll have a tough time ignoring your success and impact. You may increase the number of industry friends you make but playing it safe doesn’t help you gain significant wins.

What makes rivalries special are when two sides have the talent to achieve and a burning desire to prevent the other from reaching their ultimate destination. Sometimes it may be ugly or uncomfortable, but that’s what competition brings out of us. The better the opponent, the more we crave beating them, and when we win, the accomplishment has greater meaning.

The more the intensity and public awareness grows for a battle you’re involved in, the more the audience will become consumed by it. If they continue listening and helping you create success, advertisers will follow, and in the grand scheme of things, that matters a whole lot more than whether or not you’re well received by your competitor or by members of the media inside of a press box.

Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

Barrett News Media To Gather The Industry in Nashville in September 2023

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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One of the best parts about working in the media business is that you’re afforded an opportunity to use your creativity, take risks, and learn if an audience or advertisers will support your ideas. Sometimes you hit a homerun, other times you strike out, but regardless of the outcome, you keep on swinging.

I’ve tried to do that since launching a digital publishing and radio consulting company in 2015. Fortunately, we’ve delivered more hits than misses.

When I added news media industry coverage to our brand in September 2020, I knew it’d be a huge undertaking. The news/talk format is two and a half times larger than sports, many of its brands are powered by national shows, and the content itself is more personal and divisive. I wanted our focus and attention on news media stories, not politics and news, and though there have been times when the lines got blurred, we’ve tried to be consistent in serving industry professionals relevant content .

What made the move into news media more challenging was that I’d spent less time in it. That meant it’d take longer to find the right writers, and it required putting more time into building relationships, trust, respect, and support. Though we still have more ground to cover, we’ve made nice strides. That was reflected by the participation we received when we rolled out the BNM Top 20 of 2022 the past two weeks. Hopefully you checked out the lists. Demetri Ravanos and I will be hosting a video chat today at 1pm ET on BNM’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and through Barrett Media’s YouTube page discussing the series, as well as this article.

It’s because of that growing support, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing that I’m taking a risk yet again. I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.

I am excited to share the news that Barrett News Media will host its first ever BNM Summit on Thursday September 14, 2023 in Nashville, TN. Our one-day conference will take place at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center Ballroom. The venue we’ve selected is tremendous and I’m eager to spend a day with news/talk professionals to examine ways to further grow the format and industry.

If you’re wondering why we chose Nashville, here’s why.

First, the city itself is awesome. The access to great restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and famous landmarks is unlimited, and when you’re traveling to a city for a business conference, those things matter. Being in a city that’s easy for folks across the country to get to also doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, a conference is harder to pull off if you can’t involve successful on-air people in it. If you look at Nashville’s growth in the talk media space over the past decade, it’s remarkable. Many notable talents now live and broadcast locally, major brands have created a local footprint in the area, and that opens the door to future possibilities. I have no idea who we’ll include in the show, and I haven’t sent out one request yet because I wanted to keep this quiet until we were sure it made sense. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interest in participating and I can’t promise we’ll be able to accommodate all requests but if you have interest in being involved, send an email to Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

Third, finding the right venue is always difficult. We looked at a bunch of great venues in Nashville during our vacation this past summer, and when we stepped on to the campus at Vanderbilt University and walked through the SLC Ballroom, we knew it was the right fit. It had the space we needed, the right tech support, access to private parking, a green room for guests, and it was within walking distance of a few hotels, restaurants, and the Parthenon.

As I went through the process of deciding if this event was right for BNM, a few folks I trust mentioned that by creating a Summit for news/media folks, it could create a competitive situation. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a responsibility. I think we need more people coming together to grow the industry rather than trying to tear each other down. I hear this far too often in radio. We worry about what one station is doing rather than strengthening our own brand and preparing to compete with all audio options.

For years I’ve attended conferences hosted by Radio Ink, NAB, Talkers, and Conclave. I’ve even spoken at a few and welcomed folks who operate in the consulting space to speak at my shows. I’ll continue to support those events, read various trade sites, and invite speakers who work in a similar field because they’re good people who care about helping the industry. I believe BNM and BSM add value to the media business through its websites and conferences, and though there may be a detractor or two, I’ll focus on why we’re doing this and who it’s for, and let the chips fall where they may.

I know juggling two conferences in one year is likely going to make me crazy at times, but I welcome the challenge. In the months ahead I’ll start lining up speakers, sponsors, building the conference website, and analyzing every detail to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain and deliver an informative and professionally beneficial event. The news/talk media industry is massive and making sure it stays healthy is critically important. I think we can play a small role in helping the business grow, and I look forward to finding out on September 14th in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

Hope to see you there!

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Barrett Blogs

Jimmy Powers, Raj Sharan, Matt Berger and John Goforth Added to 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

“BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. Individual tickets are reduced to $224.99 until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET.

Jason Barrett

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In less than a hundred days, the BSM Summit will return to Los Angeles for two-days of networking, learning, laughing, and celebrating. The conference hasn’t been held on the west coast since 2019, and we’re looking forward to returning to the city of angels on March 21-22, 2023, and bringing together sports media professionals at the Founders Club, located inside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California.

For those of you who haven’t purchased your ticket(s) yet, BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. From today (Monday) through Friday 11:59pm ET, individual tickets are reduced to $224.99. If you’re planning to come, and want to make sure you’re in the room, take advantage of the extra savings and secure your seat. To buy tickets, reserve your hotel room, and learn more about the Summit’s speakers, click here.

We’ve previously announced twenty one (21) participants who will join us on stage at the 2023 BSM Summit. Today, we’re excited to expand our lineup by welcoming four (4) more additions to March’s industry spectacular.

First, BSM is thrilled to have two accomplished sports radio programmers contributing to the event. Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit will make his Summit debut in L.A.. Fresh off of a Marconi victory earlier this fall, The Ticket’s brand manager will share his insights on the present and future of sports radio on one of our programming panels. Also taking part in that panel will be the leader of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, Raj Sharan. Raj appeared on stage at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC, and we look forward to having him return to lend his voice to an important sports radio programming discussion.

But programming won’t be the only thing we invest time in out west. Growing a business, more specifically, a digital business will be part of our conference agenda as well.

When it comes to maximizing digital revenue, few brands understand the space better than Barstool Sports. Charged with growing the brand’s revenue is Senior Vice President and Head of Sales Matt Berger, and we’re looking forward to having Matt join us for a conversation that will focus on monetizing digital opportunities. Before joining Barstool, Matt sold for Bleacher Report/House of Highlights. He’s also worked for Warner Brothers and the Walt Disney Company. We’re excited to have him share his wisdom with the room.

Also taking part in our digital sales panel will be John Goforth of Magellan AI. John knows the radio business well from having served previously as a sales manager and salesperson. Since leaving traditional media and joining Magellan AI, John has studied the podcasting advertising space and learned who the top spenders are, who’s making big moves with their podcast advertising budgets, and which publishers are best positioned to benefit. Having his expertise on stage will help many in the room with trying to better understand the digital sales space.

There are other speaker announcements still to come. We have some big things planned, which I’m hoping to reveal in January and February. I want to thank ESPN Radio, FOX Sports, Showtime, and Point to Point Marketing for coming on board as partners of the 2023 BSM Summit. The support we’ve received heading into Los Angeles has been tremendous, and we greatly appreciate it. If you’re looking to be associated with the Summit as an event partner, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

That’s all for now, but be sure to take advantage of the Summit Holiday Sale. You have until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET to take advantage of discounted tickets. Happy Holidays!

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