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Is It a Smart On-Air Decision to Ignore Anthem Issues?

Jason Barrett

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If you’ve followed the sports media business over the past two decades, chances are your familiar with Sean Salisbury. The former quarterback moved into the media when his playing days were done and rose to national prominence at ESPN, becoming one of their top NFL analysts in the 1990’s and 2000’s. I was fortunate to share an ESPN Radio studio with Sean earlier in my career, and we had a lot of fun, and have maintained a relationship ever since.

Currently Sean is heard in afternoons on SportsTalk 790 in Houston, and one of the things that has made him successful is his ability to deliver strong, candid, unapologetic opinions. He’s well rounded, does his homework, and isn’t afraid to offer a thought that might piss off a player, coach, fan, boss or ex-teammate.

I lay that out for you not as a paid member of the Sean Salisbury fan club but because it connects to this next story.

This past Monday, Sean took to Twitter and announced that going forward on his radio program in Houston, the national anthem controversy would not be a topic of conversation. Not for one minute or one second would sports fans be subjected to discussion on one of the most polarizing topics in sports media circles.

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Upon learning of Sean’s stance, I applauded his decision. I love the NFL, and enjoy hearing and watching hosts discuss and debate football teams, players, and topics with fans. Since I was a kid, Sunday’s during the fall have been special. I’ve tried to share my enthusiasm for the game with my son, and fortunately he’s embraced the sport even though our NY Giants have produced less than stellar results in recent years. Despite our disappointment with the team’s performance, our love for the game has never waned.

But as much as I love pro football, I can’t say that the media coverage dedicated to covering anthem protests and highlighting the outspoken views of players on situations outside the sport hasn’t had an affect on enjoying it. If a camera shows a player kneeling, some get angry over a distraction being created. If the camera doesn’t show it, noise is made over freedom of speech and expression being hindered. It’s become exhausting listening to both sides lose their minds over this never ending issue.

To make matters worse, the second a player takes to Twitter to express a personal view or takes a knee on the sideline before a game, it feels like it’s the only thing some media members care to discuss. It’s as if the game itself isn’t enough, and they’re looking for a way to introduce their personal political views into sports.

The reason most fans have watched the NFL for the past few decades is because they love to see two teams and their highly skilled players compete to be the best. The twists and turns that occur during the span of a sixty minute contest have long been the bait to keep us biting at the hook. It’s why the league has remained atop the television ratings year after year.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on though, the one constant you’ve been able to count on for the past few years is sports talk radio hosts reacting to the anthem issue the day after. In some cases, it’s a content focus the second it happens. But what about when a show takes a stand to eliminate it from its content as Salisbury is doing in Houston? Is that a bad decision? Is he making the right call, sensing that the audience is fatigued, and tired of hearing about it?

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Looking at it from afar, here are a few of my initial thoughts.

First, if you hate the amount of attention given to this issue, and it’s affected your interest in the NFL, you’re going to welcome this news. Knowing that you can turn on a show, and not hear a host spend time discussing who knelt on Sunday, and whether Colin Kaepernick belongs on a roster will be seen as a breath of fresh air. It tells fans with that point of view that they can tune in, and count on the show to focus on issues related to their local team, and developments which have or could affect the next game, without hearing about other negative issues taking place in the world.

Salisbury’s position also creates an immediate difference in strategy between his show and the other local options available in his timeslot. That doesn’t mean that the other two local sports radio programs in the market are going all-in on anthem issues, they just haven’t declared the subject off limits yet.

By taking this approach, Sean is energizing his fans, and hoping that more people in Houston share the same belief that eliminating anthem protest discussions on sports radio to focus on the Texans and/or any other key NFL issue is a better use of air time. It also creates an opportunity for the station’s sales department to target advertisers who want to be included in sports radio programming without feeling like there’s a possibility of their spots airing in between divisive commentaries and topics.

But now let’s flip the script, because there’s also danger associated with taking a hard line on specific subjects.

The one thing we know about sports is to always expect the unexpected. You can make a judgement in the moment that feels right, and is initially seen as a positive, but then something happens that you never accounted for. It’s in those moments when you’re forced to either modify your stance, or stay true to it, and miss out on talking about an issue that you never believed would happen, but is now the number one thing moving your audience.

As we sit here on August 15th it’s highly unlikely that we’d see Jerry Jones or Tom Brady take a knee during the national anthem. But what if they did? What if before a game we saw an entire team drop to a knee? Either of those issues would quickly become the biggest story in NFL circles, and inside your listener’s place of employment. Those fans who tune into your show would likely avoid you the next day if they wanted to hear more about the subject because you’ve already gone on record promising not to touch it.

Let’s explore another example.

Wasn’t Houston Texans owner Bob McNair outspoken during an NFL owners meeting last year where he proclaimed the inmates were running the asylum? Given what we’ve read and heard about McNair, it seems unlikely that even in a dire situation he’d approve the signing of Colin Kaepernick. But what if the Texans did the unthinkable? What do you do then?

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I realize some of these examples are unlikely to occur, but when you firmly adopt a position, you become married to it. Your intentions may be good, but by definitively promising not to explore certain subjects, you leave yourself little wiggle room when unexpected situations develop.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for sticking to your beliefs as a talent. It’s what many programmers ask of their hosts – pick a side, support your opinion with evidence, and be willing to defend it. There’s always a risk that it can blow up in your face at a later point in time, not to mention a lot more aggravation from dealing with negative feedback on social media. Sean though isn’t worried about that, and he’s committed himself to a position. Whether you agree or disagree with him, I commend him for standing up for what he believes in.

In our world, sports is the main course meal that we promise to serve our listeners. It’s what instantly makes us different from NewsTalk, Music, and other entertainment choices. The NFL’s players, in-game moments, results, contracts, off season moves, etc. have consistently proven to be attractive to our audiences, and that should be enough to stimulate our on-air talent. It’s no coincidence that when the NFL is on display during the fall, many sports radio brands enjoy a spike in listening and engagement.

This notion that sports aren’t interesting enough to excite people to listen for an extended period is not one I share. If a personality is invested in a sports subject, entertaining, informed, passionate, and able to provide sharp opinions that make the audience think, people will listen. Fans do still enjoy the games, and hearing hosts debate in-game decisions, individual contracts, comments made by players, and other sports related issues. If they didn’t, we’d have fewer sports stations, and less companies eager to spend billions to operate in the sports media space.

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It’s important to remember that just because you do this for a living, and get tired of traveling, dealing with difficult organizations and players, and watching games, doesn’t mean the audience feels the same. Media people have a tendency sometimes to think that the way they and their colleagues feel is how the everyday fan feels, and that’s not the case. Most fans watch games to enjoy them, not to identify a topic for the next show. That doesn’t mean that our jobs aren’t stressful or complicated, but if you can’t find love for talking about sports thru a microphone, and appreciate how it creates a connection for you with an audience, then something is wrong.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of hosts across the country who love sports, watch them intently, and look forward to sharing what they’ve observed with their listeners. Sean is clearly one of them. Different markets have their own complexities and unique personalities, but a smart on-air talent recognizes which local teams, players, and issues appeal to their audience. By designing their content around those key items, they give themselves the best chance to win.

There are always going to be segments of an audience that flock to a show which dives head first into social issues, and other polarizing topics. There’s another segment of the audience which is going to prefer to hear about sports, and escape those intense real life discussions. In Sean Salisbury’s case, he’s counting on the latter. Now only time will tell if that’s what the people of Houston want or if they prefer the alternative approach.

Barrett Blogs

Barrett Sports Media’s Top 20 National Sports Radio Shows of 2022

“A total of 101 shows were eligible for voting consideration in the National Sports Radio Shows category.”

Jason Barrett

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The 8th annual BSM Top 20 series kicks off with a look at the Top 20 National Sports Radio Shows of 2022. These shows have the largest reach in America, and are distributed by the largest networks in the industry, airing across hundreds of radio stations, as well as on various digital and television outlets.

As you review this year’s selections, please remember that the results represent the collective opinions of forty six (46) industry executives. I’d like to thank Alex Reynolds, Stephanie Eads, and Dylan Barrett for helping with the Top 20 process, and Steve Kamer Voiceovers for being our exclusive sponsor for this year’s Top 20 series. Steve’s voice is heard across the nation on many top shows, stations, and networks, and if you’re not familiar with his work, take a second to learn what makes him stellar at his craft by clicking here.

As it pertains to the voting, here are a few key things to be aware of.

– These results are based on 2022’s performance. 2023 changes have no effect on the voting.

– Our executive panel consists of forty six (46) program directors and corporate executives from a number of top broadcasting companies including Audacy, iHeart, Cumulus, Beasley, Hubbard, Good Karma Brands, ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio, SiriusXM, Spotify, and independently owned and operated radio stations. We involve a large number of people in this process in order to include feedback from all parts of the country, as well as to prevent the results from heavily favoring one company.

 A total of 101 shows were eligible for voting consideration in the National Sports Radio Shows category.

– Voters choose their Top 20 based on a myriad of factors including the ear test, originality, ability to entertain, multi-platform impact, on-air chemistry, and ratings success. Keep in mind that voters live in different cities, have different tastes, and value certain factors higher than others. This isn’t a perfect science, but it’s the best system we’ve been able to come up with to showcase how sports radio’s brain trust view the best in the format.

And that brings us to the rankings for this year’s National Sports Radio Shows. For only the 2nd time in 8 years, we have someone at the top other than Colin Cowherd. The winner this year for best National Sports Talk Show of 2022 is The Pat McAfee Show. It was a close race, which included Cowherd earning more first place votes, eighteen (18) to McAfee’s twelve (12), but Pat scored seven more votes in the 2-5 range, allowing him to prevail by seventeen points. McAfee’s show is now consumed through podcasts, YouTube, and social media but 2022 did include eight months of distribution on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. We congratulate Pat, AJ, and the entire crew on earning this year’s top honor, as well as every other show which appeared on this year’s list.

Now, here are the full results of “BSM’s Top 20 National Sports Radio Shows of 2022!”

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Additional Notes:

  • The Herd w/ Colin Cowherd earned a category best eighteen (18) first place votes. The Pat McAfee Show was second with twelve (12).
  • 21-25 was occupied by Outkick 3602 Pros & a Cup of Joe, The Zach Gelb Show, Spain & Fitz, and Bart & Hahn.
  • The closest contest saw You Better You Bet edge Ben Maller by 4 points.
  • Of the 101 shows eligible for consideration this year, 9 received at least one 1st place vote.

Here is the remaining schedule for the BSM Top 20 of 2022.

  • Tuesday February 7 = The Top 20 Major/Mid Market Sports Radio Morning Shows of 2022
  • Wednesday February 8 = The Top 20 Major/Mid Market Sports Radio Midday Shows of 2022
  • Thursday February 9 = The Top 20 Major/Mid Market Sports Radio Afternoon Shows of 2022
  • Friday February 10 = The Top 20 Major/Mid Market Sports Radio Program Directors of 2022
  • Monday February 13 = The Top 20 Major/Mid Market Sports Radio Stations of 2022

To view prior years of BSM’s Top 20 results, click here.

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Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Barrett Blogs

Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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