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This Fire Is Out of Control and ESPN Can’t Put It Out

Jason Barrett

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ESPN SC6

I fully intended to avoid writing about this topic because I’ve grown increasingly tired of the whole political-sports media dance. But then a whole new chain of events unfolded, and now here I am, using a line from a Franz Ferdinand song to describe the mess ESPN finds itself in – “This fire is out of control.”

By now you’re probably aware that Jemele Hill of ESPN’s SC6 went off on Twitter about President Donald Trump. If you haven’t seen her tweets, it’s your lucky day. See below.


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Hill’s tweets created a stir on social media, leading ESPN to issue a statement. The network said they had talked to Jemele about her actions and she realized they were inappropriate.

But that didn’t satisfy the masses. The pressure increased when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Hill’s comments during a briefing with the press, and said Hill’s remarks were “one of the more outrageous comments anyone could make” and added that she thought Hill deserved to be fired.

Media outlets latched on to the story, but it picked up even more steam when Clay Travis spoke to a number of ESPN employees off the record, and broke the news that Linda Cohn had previously been suspended after making public comments about the company turning off their core viewers by moving away from covering just sports and allowing politics to enter the equation during a radio interview in April on WABC radio in New York.

Travis questioned why Curt Schilling was fired for his actions, yet Hill was given a pass. The former MLB pitcher was terminated after sharing a post on social media about the North Carolina law which barred transgender people from using the bathroom and locker rooms that don’t correspond with their birth genders. Schilling also made comments previously about Hillary Clinton deserving to be buried under a jail somewhere, and comparing extremist muslims to Nazi’s which also didn’t sit well with network executives.

After Schilling was fired, respected author James Andrew Miller said, “If you’re taking a paycheck from ESPN, you have to be extra careful about how you communicate publicly and always err on the side of caution and responsibility. It’s not an unfair or impractical position for ESPN to hold. If you want to express your own opinions in a provocative way on social media, then ESPN and a lot of other media organizations are probably not where you should be working.”

Those comments sound reasonable but where things become complex is when you compare how Schilling, Cohn and Doug Adler were dealt with versus the way Hill was handled. ESPN has been labeled as a network which carries a left leaning agenda, and their handling of this situation hasn’t done anything to change that perception.

During an appearance on FOX News, former analyst and NFL defensive back Jason Sehorn confirmed that he had been asked to avoid any discussion about politics while working at the network. Expecting a television analyst to steer clear of political conversations seems like a valid request, except Sehorn was known for being an avid supporter of the Republican party. In fact, he even spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Former sideline reporter Britt McHenry then chimed in, adding that while working at ESPN she was reprimanded for supporting tweets that were conservative leaning.

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By now you’re thinking, this must be the worst of it right? Well, not exactly.

On Thursday, Think Progress reported that ESPN tried to take Jemele Hill off the air on Wednesday night, but the plan backfired when her partner, Michael Smith, refused to host SC6 without her. Network executives allegedly reached out to two other black personalities, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to see if they would step in. When those inquiries were rejected, and the company couldn’t find anyone to step in, they reversed their position and had Hill return to work with Smith.

ESPN denied the report, telling Think Progress they never asked anyone to replace Hill on the show, period. Senior Vice President of news and information Rob King said, “Wednesday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture of what happened. In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show last night and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired.”

Think Progress has since updated their story with additional details, painting a picture that suggests ESPN hasn’t been completely truthful about the situation. In every story there are three sides – yours, mine and the truth. Each party has much to lose therefore keeping the specifics behind closed doors is important. Leaks do happen when high profile brands and people are involved and at this point, ESPN is trying to do damage control.

After making her inflammatory comments about Trump, Hill received support from the National Association of Black Journalists. She also received social media support from a few of her fellow colleagues.

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There are likely detractors of Hill’s inside ESPN as well, but going public with those opinions would only create unnecessary attention. Given how the network has dealt with previous situations involving employees who see the world differently, the reality of being hurt professionally makes it a wiser decision to stay silent.

Hill has since taken to Twitter to apologize for her personal beliefs putting ESPN in a difficult position. But she didn’t apologize for what she said. In fact, her original tweets remain up on her Twitter account.blank

If you thought that was the end of this story, guess again. It became an even bigger topic of conversation on Friday when the President of the United States, Donald Trump, posted this tweet.

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Whether you’re a Trump supporter or a Trump critic, it’s undeniable that his message reaches a large volume of Americans. Over 38 million people follow him on Twitter, and his tweets are picked up by media outlets across the nation. For a network looking to decrease the noise, and return to business as usual, that becomes impossible when every local and national news outlet is advancing the conversation and painting ESPN in a negative light.

Which brings me to the point of the column where I’ve got to interject a few opinions of my own.

Why are we in this situation in the first place? We’re having a conversation about sports media personalities and the ramifications of their public political positions because ESPN’s leadership has permitted it and wavered in how they handle different situations. For well over thirty years, ESPN has been the gold standard in sports media, but the past few years have included a large number of self-inflicted wounds, which begs the question, why are these things continuing to happen?

It pains me to see this unfold from afar because I grew up loving ESPN. My affinity for the company and its people moved me enough to want to go to work for them, a dream I was able to realize in 2004. But as I look at where things stand now, I don’t see the same amazing brand I once did. There are many great people still there, and I’m sure they hate this as much as I do because they’d prefer to get back to talking sports, having fun, and representing the ideals for which ESPN became special the past thirty eight years.

I want to pose a few questions that I hope will make you think.

Which direction does Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Scott Van Pelt, Freddie Coleman, Louis Riddick, Jon Gruden, Chris Berman, Trey Wingo, Kirk Herbstreit, Karl Ravech and Suzy Kolber lean politically? Maybe you know. Or like most people, you’d have to know them personally, talk to them at a public function, or dig thru pages of content online to find out.

Why does that matter? Because they go to their job, focus on satisfying the sports fan and don’t make the mistake of allowing their personal views on other issues in life to drive a wedge between them and their audience.

If you listened recently to my BSM Podcast episode with Jim Rome, he made an excellent point. The CBS Sports Radio host said that if you asked his audience which way he leans politically they’d have a hard time figuring it out. Keep in mind, Rome has been on the air for over 25 years, and he’s pretty opinionated. He understands his lane, stays in it, and respects his audience enough to avoid giving them a reason to tune out.

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Whether they accept it or not, every ESPN personality is a representative of the brand. The second they speak out on a political, racial, religious or social issue, whether intended or not, they are placing their employer in an unenviable position. The public is smart enough to understand that the individual’s views don’t represent the views of the entire company, but that doesn’t mean the attention doesn’t harm the brand’s reputation or business. If a person is going to occupy a public position and use a company’s platform to reach an audience and earn a living, they’ve got to understand that there are a certain set of responsibilities that come with it.

I’ve heard people the past few days say “Jemele isn’t speaking on behalf of ESPN, she’s talking about her own views.” Hogwash. Without ESPN, Jemele Hill the citizen can speak however she wants, but she’d be reaching a much smaller audience.

Anytime an on-air personality enters this territory my first thought is what exactly are you gaining from this? Is the validation of a few thousand fans and colleagues on social media worth it? Is getting under the skin of the political establishment worth the potential damage you could be doing to your career?

ESPN has built a stellar reputation over the past three and a half decades, and when employees of the company take these political positions, they put their employer in a position to be publicly damaged, and lose audience and advertising dollars. The four letter network is in the business of creating content for its fans and using it to sell advertising to existing and prospective clients. Regardless of intent, this conversation does little to help them increase viewership or gain additional business.

Ask yourself this question. What do you tell an ad buyer who’s white, spends a bunch of money on ESPN and voted for Donald Trump? Do you think they’re going to feel good about continuing to invest in a person/show which spit in the face of their personal beliefs? Do you think they’re simply going to make a ‘business decision’ with their ad buys rather than allow their personal feelings to enter the equation?

What about if you’re a white sports fan who enjoys ESPN, specifically SC6, and you voted for Donald Trump. Maybe you liked Michael and Jemele’s style, but when the social media commentary offered by Jemele suggests that Trump’s rise to power is the result of white supremacy, are you OK being labeled that way?

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Consider this, Donald Trump, whether you love or loathe him, did receive nearly 63 million votes. He also won 2,728 of 3,113 counties across the country. Political beliefs aside, are we really going to suggest that MOST of those people who voted for him fit the description of which Hill was talking about? Maybe I’m giving people too much of the benefit of the doubt but I don’t believe that to be the case.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, a sports media personality represents their brand at all times. If you don’t like it and prefer not to be branded as Person X of ESPN, Person Y of FOX Sports or Person Z of CBS, then you might want to reconsider whether or not a public life is the right fit.

And it carries over beyond sports media too.

If Aaron Judge made the remarks that Jemele Hill did, they would do damage to the New York Yankees brand. If Mark Zuckerberg made them, they’d hurt Facebook. If Taylor Swift made them, they’d hurt her record sales, merchandise sales, and concert attendance. You get the point.

Here’s another question that many are wondering but not comfortable discussing because it stokes the flames of race. If this situation involved Scott Van Pelt or Mike Greenberg blasting Barack Obama while he was in office, in the same manner that Jemele Hill crushed Trump, what do you think happens? If you’re going to suggest the company would have done the exact same thing, wake me when you return to reality so we can have a real conversation.

I love that ESPN has embraced a diverse culture. They’ve not been afraid to take chances whether it’s launching The Undefeated, five thirty eight or rolling out SC6. Heck, even trotting out Sergio Dipp on the sidelines for Monday Night Football was a risk, one which unfortunately didn’t work out due to a rough night of execution. I’ll never rip a company for taking chances because I think that’s essential to growing a business, but in this particular situation, unnecessary tensions have been created, and people have been forced to take sides, all because the conversation shifted into areas that were not in line with the audience’s expectations.

Looking ahead, there are a few elephants in the room that ESPN needs to get out of the way of. The first one involves the issue of political bias. Whenever it’s mentioned, the network quickly rejects it and in many cases, becomes incredibly sensitive over it. Trust me, I know. When BSM conducted a survey in March, it didn’t sit well with many inside ESPN. Some even took me to task publicly for it.

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Rather than absorb the information and recognize the very real problem on its hands, the company instead tried to wage a PR war by dismissing the data and criticizing the individuals reporting it. But how else do you explain the double standards in this situation involving Hill? Or the ridiculous controversy that ESPN created with Robert Lee? Or the Caitlyn Jenner decision at the ESPYS? Each of those situations were created by the company or their people, not media critics, FOX Sports employees or viewers who can’t let go of the glory days of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick hosting SportsCenter.

The second challenge, which I think is much harder to change, is to improve diversity of thought inside the company, and that includes at the highest levels. Bob Ley acknowledged last December that this was an area where the network needed to improve, and that may be easier to fix on the air, but what about up top? It’s been well documented that John Skipper and Bob Iger prefer the democratic party, and Connor Schell, who became Skipper’s right hand man in June, shares similar views. It’s wishful thinking to expect things to be approached differently when the top decision makers lean in the same direction.

Clay Travis wrote in his latest Outkick The Coverage column, that ESPN has two choices in front of them for how to handle these situations going forward. Option #1 would be to announce that they will not police speech that takes place off their airwaves or outside of their websites or print publications. The second option would be to take the position that no employee at ESPN is allowed to publicly discuss politics on their social media feeds.

Guess which one I’m going to pick – Option #2!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVM-c2t6KVA

If a company wants to maintain standards and avoid having to read between blurry lines to address these type of issues, they’ve got to be consistent in how they handle each situation. If an employee violates the rules, they face the consequences. If individuals don’t like or agree with the policy, there are other places to work.

By choosing the first option, you’re dismissing the influence that social media has on people, and you’re leaving it open for company employees to operate without consequence. I can only imagine the disasters that would follow if Bristol Inc. operated that way. We’re not talking about some small operation here folks. We’re talking about a company that is publicly traded, features thousands of employees and business partners, and generates billions of dollars in revenue.

ESPN finds itself at a crossroads. They’re faced with different economic realities than they’re used to and they’re operating in a new media world where the lights are always on and microphones are present. Whether it’s on their airwaves, their websites, their personalities social media pages or in public conversation, when an employee speaks out on issues that are removed from what ESPN does best, they create a divide. That helps nobody.

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With the network trying to hang on to every customer it can and avoid future mass layoffs, there’s never been a more important time for John Skipper and Bob Iger to fix these issues. The first step is to accept responsibility and acknowledge that the issue was bigger than they had imagined. The second is to install a policy which leaves no wiggle room, and is fair to people on both sides of the aisle. The final part of the puzzle is to invite different points of view on the air and inside of conference rooms to present a more level playing field inside the company. The goal should be to make fans of both political parties feel good about spending a few hours enjoying the network’s content and supporting its business partners. That’s especially important with disconnected fans/viewers ages 35 and up.

Sports isn’t supposed to be a right or left choice. But when on-air talent wander into areas that the audience doesn’t tune into them for, the relationship between host and viewer/listener can suffer. It’s critical to know what your brand is, what the audience expects, and then satisfy those expectations. It may sound silly but sometimes it pays to stick to sports!

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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