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FOX Sports Creates a Stir With Its New Digital Strategy

Jason Barrett

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FOX Sports is under media attack after releasing a number of staffers from their digital department. The company is trying to modify its digital strategy and the new vision set by Jamie Horowitz has created a mixed response. Some who have lost jobs have taken to social media to express their gratitude or frustration towards the company, and others have talked off the record to Awful Announcing about their disgust with the company’s new approach.

If you haven’t read the piece that Ben Koo put together it’s worth your time. It highlights some of the internal disconnect that was taking place as departments clashed and tried to get a better handle on how to be more effective in the online space.

When I heard the piece was being produced by AA I expected it to carry a negative slant towards FOX Sports because the majority of content pieces about the company on AA lean in that direction. Some may still take exception to the piece and hint at Koo having an agenda, but I thought Ben did an excellent job and tried to be fair with his reporting. Maybe the article doesn’t project the best image for Horowitz but clearly some people inside of FOX Sports weren’t unified in the digital vision for the company.

As I digested the article, I came away with a few thoughts. Allow me to share them with you.

First, whether it was passed along from someone who was let go or from someone who presently works for FOX Sports, sharing private and sensitive information about a company’s strategy is weak. I’m not naive enough to think that leaking sensitive information doesn’t happen all the time, just look at the political world, but when trust doesn’t exist between management and its employees, it’s only a matter of time before changes occur.

I’m not privy to who did and didn’t get along inside of FOX Sports. If the emotions felt in the article though reflected what was being displayed behind closed doors, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Horowitz and his management team aren’t shedding tears over the loss of some talented people who didn’t share their same enthusiasm for FOX Sports’ online future. Those who departed are also probably glad to rid the turmoil from their lives and turn their time and energy to a new situation.

Second, anytime cuts take place it sucks. I don’t like seeing anyone in the industry lose an opportunity, but it’s a reality of the business we’ve chosen to work in. As I was sifting thru the comments online about the staff reductions I saw a few people point out how the people behind the scenes too often pay the price yet it should be the ones in front of the camera or microphone who suffer for a company’s failures.

I’ve been one of those guys behind the scenes. I loved producing and programming sports radio shows and stations, and without qualified, creative, hard working support players, the talent aren’t as crisp and the product isn’t as good.

But let’s not lose sight of what the public comes to a brand for most; the faces of the franchise.

When you buy an admission ticket to a movie theatre, you pay to see the actors. That doesn’t make the work done by writers, producers, camera operators or graphic artists any less important but without the stars, the film doesn’t put butts in seats.

The same formula exists in every other form of the entertainment business.

If you go to a concert to watch a band play live, the musicians get the credit. The road crew, manager, and sound guy might play a vital role in the production, and for their efforts they may receive a pat on the back and an invite to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after the show, but its the band who gains the limelight and all that’s associated with it.

Turn on a professional sporting event and the players on the court or field earn our admiration, while the ball boys, trainers, chefs, and members of the PR staff gain the occasional thank you and a paycheck on the 15th and 30th of the month. Those folks behind the scenes all play a part in making sure the athletes are taken care of to do what they do best, but the reason people pay high prices to watch a game is because of the players.

The next item which stood out, was Horowitz’s belief that putting the name of the network’s high profile television personalities behind written content was better for the overall ability to generate clicks and increase business. I’m not sure how anyone could find fault with that approach. If a column was produced by FOX Sports and had Skip Bayless’ name on it, it’s much more likely to generate a ton of activity than if the column had my name on it.

Pundits have been quick to pounce on FOX Sports for using ghost writers and pushing their personalities as the main attraction but are we really suggesting that featuring the company’s most recognized talent isn’t a bright idea? You may not like Cowherd, Bayless, Jason Whitlock or Shannon Sharpe but they are a lot more likely to generate a click and emotional connection to a piece of content than lesser known writers, reporters and behind the scenes people.

And do we really think ghostwriting doesn’t already occur? I was stunned by how many people took issue with this.

For example, I think The Player’s Tribune does a fantastic job with their website, but do you really think all of those athletes are sitting down to write columns? Not to mention, writing them as if they had spent 10-15 years in the print business?

Not a chance.

If the material is delivered by a recognizable public figure and a professional media member cleans it up and helps it look its best before clicking send to share it with the world, what’s the problem with that? It’s no different than what producers do on a daily basis to help great on-air talent create memorable on-air content. I’ve witnessed outstanding producers like Justin Craig, Paul Pabst and Ray Necci feed lines, facts, jokes and opinions to hosts to present on the air, and I’ve been in that exact position myself. The brains behind the operation are there to support the talent and it’s the host’s job to create, execute and be held accountable for it.

The final opinion I want to express may make a few people upset but it’s how I and many others in the media feel.

Raise your hand if you were visiting FOXSports.com on a daily basis. Now keep your hand up if you could name 4-5 things on FOX Sports’ website (not video related) worth clicking back for regularly.

Those of you who put your hands up, either stop lying or return to your cubicle inside of FOX Sports’ headquarters.

The majority of people I’ve talked to in this industry over the years would tell you that FOX Sports’ website was an afterthought. I don’t doubt that many inside the operation weren’t talented or working hard to make it better and I’m not suggesting that Jamie Horowitz’s commitment to pushing online video and eliminating written content is the holy grail of solutions. What I do know is that when I’ve talked to people about where they turn to for sports information, opinion, analysis, and entertainment, FOX Sports’ website was rarely in the conversation.

When you ask people about their preferred online sports destinations it’s common to hear them recall ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Others may list Barstool, The Ringer, The Player’s Tribune and Pro Football Talk, or local newspapers or league/team specific sites where they turn regularly. The majority of those brands thrive without the benefit of a television network promoting their digital content.

I remain a believer in the value of great written content, reporting and analysis but I can’t blame companies for shifting their position towards heavier video distribution if the public and advertising community places higher value on it. In business there’s an old saying “fish where the fish are” and whether it’s popular or not, FOX is trying to reverse its existing online position of being persona non grata and deliver a digital experience that generates more interest and revenue, while aligning their web focus with their television strategy.

In the AA column, Jamie said something during his presentation to staffers which I think is valid. He commented that “the written word is still relevant, but the advertising value of written content, what we call display, is not growing.”

Therein lies the struggle.

I love to read and visit many websites each day for quality written content, but let’s be honest, how much more likely are we to recall content, let alone an advertiser’s message, if we hear it in audio or see it in video? It takes much more work, time and focus to read and process written material, and it lacks the emotional connection that we gain when we watch or hear something. From a business standpoint, the placement of a client’s message at the top part of a website or in the middle of a written column doesn’t generate half the activity that those other options provide.

As I mentioned earlier, seeing good talented people lose employment opportunities isn’t fun, but we have to be mature enough to separate our feelings for individuals from what’s best for a brand’s business objectives. Anytime change takes place in our industry it’s met by immediate overreactions, yet people quickly forget the reality of the situation.

I realize the debate culture frustrates many sports media traditionalists, but national personalities with strong opinions produce interest. It’s why so many of you reading this column right now are able to recall every single smart and stupid thing uttered on the air by hosts like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd, etc.

I’m also aware that FOX has been pretty outspoken and cocky since arriving on the scene. For that reason alone, many in the industry want to see them fail. But whether they’re arrogant, smug, bullish or smart, the real question is whether or not FOX Sports was due for a digital makeover. If the existing strategy was thriving I don’t believe they’d be making wholesale changes.

It’s fair to question if our industry is devaluing intelligence and analysis in favor of sensationalism, but it’s hard to support that stance when the results show that people would prefer watching a LaVar Ball rant over reading an informed column from a top notch writer. It may frustrate those of us who love to read and write but from a business standpoint, if people are drawn to a car crash then it’s the brand’s job to produce more accidents.

As someone who runs a business, I’ve seen this firsthand. I can write a detailed analysis on a specific industry topic that should help an on-air talent or executive and it might generate a few thousand clicks. But if I create a top 10 list or a strong opinion piece on a polarizing show like First Take, it delivers 5-10x the amount of traffic. People may say they don’t prefer that style of content but their actions tell a different story.

Whether it’s popular or not, FOX Sports’ website hasn’t been great, and the brand’s digital content and social currency lagged behind its competitors. Maybe Jamie Horowitz’s digital video strategy will crash and burn, but I’m not going to act surprised or complain about a company taking a chance to reverse its digital irrelevance. It’s easy to be a face in the crowd and operate in the land of white noise, but instead FOX made a difficult choice and took a giant risk to increase their odds of success. In that respect I give them credit.

When a boat has a leak and the water is pouring in, you either abandon the ship or patch it up. FOX has done a ton of patch work over the years, and Horowitz decided it was time to jump aboard a different boat. That decision will either help him arrive safely on shore or sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Either way, it’ll be a journey worth following.

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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 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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