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Pay Attention to the ESports Revolution

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Sports radio is full of people with unique and interesting stories of how they got to where they are. One of those interesting stories in Jon Lunceford. He currently hosts Jox Primetime on JOX 94.5 in Birmingham. 

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Lunce was a professional gamer for a time before he launched his media career. That’s why we thought he was the perfect guy to write a little bit about the esports revolution. You may not pay attention to professional video gaming, but your kids certainly do. Is sports radio ready for the day when who Robert Kraft signs to play for the Patriots is less relevant in the pop culture landscape than who he signs to play for his esports team?

Professional gamers are everywhere. Sure, they have their own YouTube channels and Twitch streams, but Turner Sports is putting big events on television. Your tween sons are probably watching DisneyXD’s block of gaming-related shows every weeknight.

In his guest column for BSM, Jon Lunceford talks about his experience as a pro gamer, how the industry has caught the attention of some of the sports world’s most powerful names, and what sports radio can do to embrace esports in a way that isn’t jarring for our current listeners.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE ESPORTS REVOLUTION

It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City forward Paul George arrives at the newly built Banc of California Stadium.  Also in the building is Los Angeles Laker guard Josh Hart.  Could this be it?  Is Paul George taking his talents to the Lakers next season?

Don’t get your hopes up quite yet Laker fans.  George isn’t there to meet with Hart about potentially joining the franchise that some think he may end up with this season.  Instead, he is joining Pistons big man Andre Drummond, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried plus UFC fighters Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson along with more athletes and entertainers to play in the first ever Fortnite Celebrity Pro-AM at E3.

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If you’re in sports media, and you haven’t heard about esports, it’s time you started paying attention, because the athletes, coaches and executives you already cover are, and they are putting their money and brands into the vastly growing world of professional video gaming.

If you don’t know who Faker, Ninja or Daigo are – don’t worry, you’re not alone.  But these are some of the biggest stars in the world thanks to their success in games like League of Legends, Fortnite and Street Fighter.

I know what you’re thinking…no one cares about video games and the nerds that play them. We have more important things to discuss each day on our radio programs.  I get it.  I work in a market where it’s Alabama and Auburn football all the time, even now in the middle of the summer when there is nothing going on with either of those schools.

However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to follow the money.

That’s what I did.  As a college football player over a decade ago, I unfortunately got injured and had to stop playing.  However, I found a new competitive outlet – esports.  At the time, it wasn’t near as big as it is now, but I found a way to keep my competitive juices flowing while earning free trips to Germany, China, South Korea and all over the United States. I also won a little money while I was at it.  

While college football or basketball may be the only reason you ever want to talk about collegiate sports, it might be worth keeping an eye on esports.  Scholarships are being handed out around the nation for the top esports players out of high school.  High schools themselves are getting in on the action with the already established High School Esports League and now the National Federation of High Schools has partnered with PlayVS to bring esports to a number of member associations this year.  While esports is very worldwide now, this brings it to us on the local level.

After graduation, there are many professional leagues that not only pay full time salaries to compete, but the prize money is growing with each competition and into the millions for many games.

Esports revenue is growing at an incredible rate – 41.3% year-over-year according to Newzoo, an esports data gathering firm.  Esports is expected to make approximately $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020 with over 300 million people watching esports around the world.  ESPN, NBC and Turner have already signed deals to carry various events on their networks.

So what does this mean for sports radio?

First, let’s look at TV trends.  We have all watched ESPN struggle over the last few years.  Whether it’s due to their layoffs or politically leaning programming, the Sports Leader is going downhill.  The NFL is a league that as a whole has seen a decrease in viewership over the last couple of years for multiple reasons.  While most reports will point to people not tuning in due to the protests or bad match-ups in primetime, many young viewers are just finding interest in something else.

According to a survey from Limelight Networks, men 18-25 are spending more time online watching video gaming and esports events on average (1.95 hours) than sports (1.67 hours), news (1.45 hours) or other TV programming (1.88 hours).

If we look at Nielsen’s Total Audience Report from 2017, we see that live TV viewing has gone down 16 minutes since 2015 while viewing content on a smartphone or tablet has gone up 1 hour and 41 minutes in those two years.  Radio has been a constant, sitting at the same amount of time listened each day over the years.  However, it went from the second most used medium to the third most used behind smartphones.

It’s all about understanding where people are, and how these future generations will consume media differently than most adults in our core demographic of 25-54 do now.  There doesn’t have to be a seismic shift into all of the sudden paying attention to esports and making it a part of our daily sports radio lives.  However, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

One of the major stories in sports media has been the lack of viewers for ESPN’s new early lineup including Get Up! and High Noon.  Both shows are struggling to build their brands and get viewers this summer before football season starts back up.  While I am sitting here reading an article about their numbers being under 200,000 viewers at certain times, I am also watching a Twitch.tv stream of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who is currently doing nothing but sitting in the lobby on Fortnite in front of 150,000 viewers.  I flip over, and watch a regular season game from the League of Legends Championship Series that currently has 165,000 viewers.  

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While those numbers aren’t beating ESPN for standard daily viewership, there are multiple reasons why those esports numbers are more intriguing to a potential sponsor looking to spend their money in a more efficient way.  Not many organizations can show over 1 billion measurable views like the League of Legends Championship Series can, as they just hit that mark this summer.

It’s also curious when you look at the money and viewership involved with the biggest esports event each year, The International, and compare it to major events in traditional sports like The Masters.  Last year’s International saw five winners made $2.17 million each, more than this year’s Masters winner Patrick Reed made at $1.98 million. The International wasn’t quite as highly viewed as The Masters, but it is getting closer.  The International 2017 peaked at 10.9 million viewers while The Masters 2018 peaked at 16.8 million viewers.  The International 2018 is August 15-25 in Vancouver if you’re curious.

While I am on the younger side of sports radio, in my early 30’s and right in the middle of the Millennial generation, I understand that esports isn’t what I need to talk about daily on my radio show.  Most people out there would rather hear me discuss whether I think Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts should start for Alabama next season for the 50th time instead of talking about the Overwatch League playoffs.  But that doesn’t mean that no one wants to hear it.

Slowly we are starting to see gaming and esports products pop up.  Westwood One has Checkpoint Radio which stations can carry each week to discuss the latest in gaming.  Many radio personalities are starting their own podcasts to discuss topics like esports as well.

The best way we’ve found to discuss esports is by finding a way to tap into that small part of our listeners that does enjoy video games, whether they did as a child, or their children now play games.  When recapping weekend events a few weeks ago, I mentioned E3, and in doing so, was able to relate it to sports games we all have played at one point or another such as FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K and more.  It generated great discussion among listeners who wouldn’t have cared about discussing video games normally.

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The most important thing with esports is to try and understand it.  Is it a sport?  As someone who has played college football and competed in esports professionally, I always say no despite understanding every argument that says it is.  But it still can have a place in sports.  

Former ESPN President John Skipper said that esports was not a sport in his mind and that he was only interested in doing “real sports” on the network.  Nevermind that the World Series of Poker is one of ESPN’s biggest attractions and isn’t even remotely close to a sport, nor is the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I’m sure many of your kids are playing Fortnite non-stop, but the difference with video games is – there is always a next game.  Once the Fortnite fad dies down, there will be another game that your kids will be playing while professional athletes and celebrities jump on to promote it.  That allows esports to be so accessible to the general public and why watching it online has become so large.  

Of the eight personalities on our radio station, only one other person besides me has played sports on at least the collegiate level.  Yet video games are something that everyone can play no matter their age or experience.  It’s something that is easy to pick up and use to connect us with our friends, family, coworkers and even complete strangers.

It’s something that when we watch professionals play, they are literally playing the same game I am.  There is nothing different about the game I’m playing of League of Legends compared to the game that a professional is playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden, and yes. That is happening. 

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The accessibility is unparalleled and is why multiple professional team owners such as Robert Kraft, Stan Kroenke and more have bought into the Overwatch League or the League of Legends Championship Series.  It’s why across the world, we see celebrations in football, basketball, baseball and soccer that mimic dances found in Fortnite.  

It’s why Adam Silver and the NBA have bought in, creating the NBA 2K league.  Because while I may not ever be able to go out and play with LeBron James in the NBA, I can certainly pick up a copy of NBA 2K and play the same way the pros do.

When the entire sports world is buying into something, it might be worth it for sports radio to take a look at it.

Esports isn’t the norm right now, and it may take a long time before it is.  For now, we’ll wait and see if Paul George goes back to LA, but this time to play basketball instead of Fortnite.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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