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Randy Laffoon Has Been A Lucky Station Owner

“I felt like I bought a lot of advertising, so I could sell it. We’re better at it now than when we first started but it’s difficult. It’s not easy.”

Tyler McComas

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Owning a radio station requires you to wear a lot of different hats. There’s making sure the sales staff is functioning properly and being profitable. evaluating the on-air programming, managing egos, hiring new talent, paying bills, advertising, and installing social media strategies just to name a few. Oh, and all the while you’ve likely invested a huge amount of money and are hoping to recoup it.

Randy Laffoon started his venture as a sports radio station owner in 2009 after a successful run in the cell phone business. As a business owner, he used sports radio to advertise Norman Cellular, and found the listening audience to be very loyal. So when the opportunity presented itself, he purchased KREF SportsTalk 1400 in Norman, OK and began his journey into the sports radio business. 

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Laffoon just so happens to own the station I do my daily show at. It’s in a college town, but also 20 minutes away from Oklahoma City, so our station could be labeled as a small market brand, but with a nearby metropolitan area, it makes for an interesting discussion.  

“I’d say it’s more of a medium market,” said Laffoon. “It’s a little difficult, traffic wise, to get to Oklahoma City. We have a pretty loyal following and people that want to shop Norman. But it’s difficult because they say we’re too small to compete in Oklahoma City, yet anytime they want us to carry something out of Oklahoma City, the say, oh, you’re an Oklahoma City market station. So they use it against us and it makes it difficult.”

Though Laffoon didn’t have prior experience in radio before buying the station, he saw an upcoming trend that he believed would change the format. Along with that came an understanding that there was a difference between selling in retail, and selling sports radio. 

“I felt like radio was going to move towards the smart phone, which it has” said Laffoon. “But one of the shortcomings is that there’s only one source of income, which is advertising. So that was a little bit of difference from being in retail.”

As an owner of a station, time consumption is important. You can’t be in every office at once so you have to identify and figure out where your time is best spent. Laffoon is at the station every day and conducts most, if not all, of the meetings in the building. But with an owner that’s so hands-on, there still needs to be a decision on where to focus the majority of your energy.  

“From a programming standpoint, as you know, we leave you all alone,” said Laffoon. “For the most part, you guys do your thing. That comes from having good people who care about the product. I would say the one thing that surprised me was that I spent so little time on programming and it was because my time needed to be spent on selling advertising. I felt like I bought a lot of advertising before, so I could sell it (radio). We’re better at it now than when we first started but it’s difficult. It’s not easy.”

But how did Laffoon arrive at that decision?

“Based on your payroll you just see what it takes to survive,” Laffoon said. “When that number is as big as it is, because this is an expensive format, every time you hear a voice, if somebody’s talking, we’re paying to hear that voice. Whether it’s $10 an hour or $10,000 an hour, we’re paying to hear it. It was apparent to me, right out of the gate, I was going to spend the majority of my time selling. And that’s what I do.”

SportsTalk 1400 doesn’t subscribe to ratings. But that doesn’t stop Laffoon and his sales team from creating a healthy amount of revenue. They’re not selling a number, instead, they’ve found a replacement to make up for it. 

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“It’s all relationships,” Laffoon said. “It wasn’t rated when I used it for 18 years at my cell phone stores, but I knew people came in because of it because they’d tell me. People want to buy locally. If they understood Arbitron, the base word of Arbitron is arbitrary, so you have 800 diaries spread out across the metroplex. A Norman based business is not going to show up in certain instances, because you’re competing with all of Oklahoma City. You have to pay for that rating. For us it would be a losing proposition monetarily.”

For a host, it can be extremely beneficial when a station leans on selling with relationships. Whether it’s interacting with clients on social media, befriending them in public, or something as simple as taking an interest in their business. The salesperson may do all the work in landing the client, but the host can still put in the effort to help them retain the business. 

“At times we’ve had trouble getting people to promote businesses, because they don’t see it,” Laffoon said. “If you went on sales calls with me for a month you’d get it. They’d see that people do listen and they do care. They are paying for that and we’ve got to do a better job. If the host said every month, what could I do better to help everyone sell, it would make a difference. If I’m a small business owner and you’re mentioning me on the air, there’s no words to how good that makes me feel.”

Selling relationships and producing local content is a strategy that has worked well for Laffoon. If there’s a community event, he wants the station involved in some capacity. Maybe it’s promoting it on the air, doing a live remote, even something as simple as signage at the event can be enough. But nothing will be more ‘Norman’ than his radio station. 

That’s why investing so much in the two local high schools is so important to Laffoon. During football season, every game for both teams, home and away, is featured live on the main signal, 1400 AM, along with 98.5 FM, an alternate signal the station leases to a Spanish radio station. Every football game, select basketball, baseball and soccer games, as well as each matchup in every sport between the two high schools, is aired live on the radio and on an internet stream that features a scoreboard and play-by-play commentary. 

Laffoon has not only invested in strong coverage of local high school sports, he’s invested in the quality of the content. 

“First, it’s exclusive programming,” said Laffoon. “Second, I went through it with my kids and I know how much people enjoy it. I just think it’s one of those things that people find to be both local and community-wide. Plus, were the only people doing it. We have that exclusive content.”

Finding alternate sources of income is a goal of any station owner. For Laffoon, it came thru buying a local Norman publication Boyd Street Magazine. By doing so, he and his sales team can pitch an alternate option to a client, outside of radio ads. It gives the company the option to shift the client’s advertising money to print if they’re not interested in being featured on the radio station. It also gives the hosts of the station the freedom and creativity to have their sports stories featured in the magazine. 

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“I wish I would’ve diversified sooner,” Laffoon said. “When we bought Boyd Street magazine, it was to have an option, because you’re out there working and people are like, well, I don’t like sports. I don’t feel like my store fits in the sports market. They want to buy from you, they’d like to do business with you, but diversification factors into it. I wish I had done it sooner. I waited seven years.”

When hiring new talent, much like any station owner, Laffoon is very cognizant of people that will fit into the identity of his station. That’s critical. But above all, you better be able to talk about OU and the local sports in town. That may be a given, but Laffoon has built his station into one that’s very OU centric. 

“We want to be OU central,” said Laffoon. “Having people that enjoy that and have some connection to it. For years we had trouble getting that and then all of a sudden your morning show host becomes the Voice of the Sooners. Sometimes it’s just luck, which it was for us. But I also think we’ve hired some other really good people. They’re just so expensive when you’re paying for live broadcasts all throughout the day. You look around the country and see stations our size only do live programming during the morning drive and afternoon drive. They’re national radio in between. In this market, everyone that’s on the sports side, for the most part, is live all day. For us to compete, that’s what we feel like we really need to be.”

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Taking over any station can be stressful, especially considering all the high-and-lows that come with the first few years on the job. But managing those peaks and valleys are super important to anyone that manages and owns any station, no matter the market. 

“One of the things about small business is if you sell something on the way in, you’re driving in going, man this is great, I need to hire some more people, I really need to get after it, I need to advertise, you do all these things,” said Laffoon. “When you drive home and somebody cancels, you’re like, God, I need to get out of this. It’s a roller coaster. I have a lot of good thoughts though about needing to do more and expanding. For the most part, we’ve been blessed. We’re not getting wealthy, but we’re not getting killed, either. We’ve been really lucky over our tenure.”

10 years ago Laffoon saw the future of radio moving more towards smartphones and computers. So, 10 years later, will terrestrial numbers go down and online numbers go up? 

“If you’re a 100,000 watt FM station it doesn’t matter, because if you have the internet, you should be just as good as everybody else. I think before long you’ll dock your phone on your dash and that’s how listening will happen,” said Laffoon.

“But still, there’s a big future for radio. I look at David Griffin who owns Channel 9 and Channel 6 and just bought five radio stations in Tulsa. I think he’s a really smart man. I think he’s got one of the best companies in the state. If he’s investing in radio, he either knows something that I don’t, or maybe he knows what I know that there is a big future in this business. I certainly feel that there is. I’m sure he’s looking at TV with Hulu, Facebook, and others emerging and that’s a tough path for local television. Radio doesn’t have that interference right now and that’s a good thing.”

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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