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FOX’s Strategy to Launch the WWE Was Glorious

“Nearly 4 million people tuned in to watch WWE Smackdown on FOX. Strategy and execution had a lot to do with it.”

Jason Barrett

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If you’re a wrestling fan you’ll probably enjoy this column. If you’re not a fan of sports entertainment, that shouldn’t matter. This piece isn’t about who deserves a world title push or should be in line to main event the next WrestleMania. It’s about re-imagining an existing brand, and creating a strong multi-platform strategy to ensure success.

WWE Smackdown debuted last Friday night on FOX. The first impression was strong for both companies, and the ratings backed it up. Nearly 4 million people tuned into the first show, a big spike in viewership compared to recent months of the show on the USA Network. Congrats to Eric Shanks and his team at FOX and all involved with the WWE on a great start.

Though they’ve only produced one show, and there’s much more work to be done, I thought there was a lesson in the debut worth sharing with you. If the same company (WWE), delivered the same show (Smackdown) featuring most of the same talent, just on a different night and network, is that enough of a reason for the audience size to double?

Here let me answer that for you, it’s not. It happened because of great strategy and execution.

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Leading up to the Friday night debut, you couldn’t turn on FOX and not know WWE Smackdown was premiering on Friday night October 4th. Wrestling personalities appeared during live games on the network, sometimes in the booth or sidelines during the action, other times at halftime with the studio crew. They visited FOX studio shows, appeared at FOX’s Upfront for advertisers, and toured different cities to appear on local FOX affiliates. WWE also used their brand’s massive social media following and the enormous influence of their individual performer’s accounts to promote the partnership.

In addition to the on-air segments and public appearances, FOX introduced a killer promo campaign titled ‘We’re All Superstars‘. The promos ran frequently on television, including on social media, and immediately grabbed your attention. Sometimes in sports media we rush promos on to the air just for the sake of telling people something is happening, but FOX’s creative for this campaign should have reminded you of how critical it is to cut thru the clutter to get people talking about your content. Fantastic job by their promo team. To watch the promo click here.

FOX also worked with WWE to develop personality-specific playlists on Pandora. They created an augmented reality program for Facebook and Instagram to allow users to insert their faces on wrestlers. The TV company even got involved in merchandising, making sure deals with Mattel and Walmart to sell WWE action figures included FOX Sports branding. If you’re managing a sports media brand and going thru a future negotiation with a franchise, remember this. There are always new ways to reach more fans and build on a successful partnership.

From an on-air promotional standpoint, they even made the little things matter. Whenever a segment aired on FOX to promote the WWE, you heard ACDC’s ‘Are You Ready’ play either in the intro, outro or during the segment. That’s simple but effective brand reinforcement. Now when fans hear that song they’ll think of Smackdown on FOX.

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To make the first show feel even bigger, FOX created a Smackdown pre-game show live from ‘the blue carpet’. A sea of wrestlers and celebrities posed for photos outside the Staples Center and stopped by for chats with FOX Sports’ Charissa Thompson. Renee Young and Booker T added material from inside the Staples Center. It was during the pre-game show that the network revealed the new stage and set for the show. It looked awesome and generated a lot of social media conversation.

I even took notice of how FOX’s experience with producing live games paid dividends. During the pre-game show, FOX had The New Day reveal the new Smackdown set while standing right in front of the ring. They also showed video footage of Kofi Kingston and Brock Lesnar arriving at the building for their heavily hyped championship match. That made it feel important. It was no different than when you see Tom Brady in a suit rolling into Foxboro for a playoff game.

Now that we’ve covered the pre-promotion for the launch of WWE on FOX, what about the actual show? Was it a one-week flash in the pan or a sign of bigger things to come? After all, the WWE once worked with NBC for the XFL and the first week’s ratings were a massive success. Unfortunately soon after they quickly ‘faded into bolivion’ as Mike Tyson once famously said.

From start to finish, I thought the show was entertaining. There was an introduction from Vince and Stephanie McMahon highlighting the new partnership with FOX, crowd shots of FOX talents Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Rob Stone, and a backstage interview with the New Day conducted by FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews which produced a lot of chatter.

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The action in the ring was outstanding too. The Rock returned and won over the crowd in the opening segment which included Becky Lynch and Baron Corbin. Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury appeared and got into a confrontation with WWE superstar Braun Strowman. ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt (one of WWE’s most exciting current characters) attacked world champion Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens beat Shane McMahon to cost him his job, and Roman Reigns followed up a win over Erick Rowand by shaking hands with Daniel Bryan.

But the biggest moment of the night occurred in the main event. Brock Lesnar ended Kofi Kingston’s world title run in less than 10 seconds, sending social media into a frenzy. The quick win over Kingston was shocking, but minutes after becoming world champion it got even better. A ghost from Lesnar’s past appeared, former UFC heavyweight champion, and the man who beat Lesnar for the title, Cain Velasquez. Cain stared him down before entering the ring, and then took him to the mat and unloaded on Brock before he could escape the ring. It got people talking and wanting to see more which is all WWE and FOX could have asked for. To nobody’s surprise, the show trended #1 all night on Twitter.

I noticed that the segments moved quick too. The exception was The Rock’s segment, but when one of the biggest superstars in entertainment and the most gifted performer to hold a microphone appears in the ring, you get out of his way and let him do his thing. I don’t care how long it goes. The result is must-watch television, which The Rock once again provided.

Michael Cole and Corey Graves also deserve credit for their work on the broadcast. They were outstanding as a two-man team, and their approach to calling the show was much more serious. They made the show feel like a must-see event and serious competition. Having watched numerous shows on RAW where three at the announcers table felt like too many, and the commentary felt aimed at the 8-year old fan instead of the 18-34 year old viewer, it was a breath of fresh air.

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The reason why FOX and WWE enjoyed a successful debut is because they designed a great multi-platform strategy to support a new program and partnership. They then went out and executed it. So much of success happens beforehand, and Friday night’s premier was a great example of that.

FOX has made it known they believe in live events and want to use them to draw viewers on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. With Thursday Night Football, WWE Smackdown, College Football’s 12pm game, and FOX NFL Sunday, they’ve got plenty of great programming to attract eyeballs. When you combine it with sound strategy and crisp execution, it’s easy to see why a great brand produces immediate results.

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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