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The Equation Is Changing

“You need to be looking at how your employer monetizes a digital audience and comparing that to how others are monetizing that digital audience.”

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Today’s column will sound like it’s written for the executives in the audience, and to a certain extent, it is. It’s definitely about the business challenges they face as the sports-media industry becomes increasingly digital.

But honestly, I’m not going to say anything that these executives and programmers haven’t heard before. In fact, they’ve probably been told this by someone with more sway in this industry than I’ll ever possess, so while it’s possible something in my delivery or synopsis may convince them of something, I’m not all that hopeful.

The audience I’m hoping to reach here is the talent and the production staff. The creative people. My people.

The folks who make the content that these executives and programmers then monetize, and if you’re anything like I was, you don’t spend all that much time trying to figure out how they make money off your content. That’s their job. It’s how I felt about the business side of the newspapers I worked at for 14 years and the advertising department of the sports-talk radio station in Seattle where I was a host for the past eight.

My job was to make content that would attract and retain an audience. My performance was measured primarily on the size of this audience. This is because I was working in mature industries where the advertising rates were established and predictable. My bosses knew how many people needed to be reading my stories or listening to my show to be a good business proposition. To put it in mathematical terms, the audience size was the variable in the equation and while we may quibble over the accuracy of the ratings and the methodology of their measurement, I think we all accept the underlying premise I’ve described.

Except, this arrangement changes when a traditional media operation becomes increasingly digital. It changes because audience size is no longer the only variable. In fact, it’s often not the most important variable in a digital media environment. It’s this fact that is causing most of the tension we currently feel in the industry not to mention a big part of the reason you’re being pushed to do so many different things in your job right now.

To help envision this, think of your traditional sports-media company as a person straddling a fault line, one foot on either side of a growing divide. One side represents the traditional medium whether it’s print, radio or television. On this side, the ad rates are established and predictable. Let’s call this side Revenue A.

The other foot is planted in the digital realm where the distinctions between print, radio and television are less and less important. The ad rates? Well, those are being figured out on the fly and are impossible to predict. Let’s call this Revenue B.

We know a couple of things for sure about Revenue A.

  1. It’s currently carrying the bulk of our weight, providing upward of 75 percent of the money
  2. It’s not only shrinking, but the fault line is shaking enough you’re kind of worried Revenue A is going to crumble entirely.

We know a couple of things for sure about Revenue B:

  1. It can’t come close to supporting the current organization. Honestly, it can’t support half the current organization. We’re just using it for balance right now
  2. It is growing.

The business plan is pretty obvious, right? Grow Revenue B at a pace that either meets or exceeds the erosion of Revenue A.

Hell, Revenue B is already growing so let’s get some fertilizer, some hoses, and you might even be able to talk yourself into the idea that Revenue B may become bigger than Revenue A ever was.

What I just described is not a business solution, though. It is a hope and a naive one at that. This is not a prediction, but an observation of another advertising-based industry that underwent a similar transition: Newspapers.

This was a mature industry with established and predictable ad rates and where the content creators — the reporters, columnists and photographers — were measured on their ability to attract an audience. And as newspapers became digital news operations, distributing their content online or via apps, they hoped their digital advertising — their Revenue B — would equal or maybe even outweigh the traditional advertising budget by the time Revenue A dried up.

Except that Revenue B turned out to be somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of what Revenue A was. Now, some of this was specific to the newspaper industry. For decades, classified ads constituted the most expensive advertising real estate in the paper. Craigslist provided an alternative that wasn’t just digital but free. But it was more than that, too.

When a newspaper sold display advertising, it was competing against other print publications whether it was the other newspaper in town, the free weekly, or maybe even a national or state-wide publication.

When a newspaper sold digital advertising for its Web content? It was competing against all of those publications plus Web-only publications that were springing up, not to mention Facebook and Google. Competition drove the prices down to the point that any newspaper businessman who’s alive will tell you that digital advertising is inherently cheaper than print advertising.

Retaining audience wasn’t the issue. In fact, the content that newspapers produced was being distributed more widely than ever before and being consumed at a greater frequency. If you used the traditional metrics of circulation, the content creators were excelling. The problem is that was no longer the only variable. In fact, it wasn’t even close to being the most important variable. 

I’m going to stop the comparison here not because there’s nothing to be learned from how newspapers tried — and in many cases failed — to monetize their digital content. There is, and I’ll do that in future columns. I’m not seeking to present a doomsday prediction for the sports-talk radio or broadcast television industries either. There’s a lot of this story that remains undecided.

The point I want to make is that for years, content creators have been evaluated on their ability to attract and retain an audience. This can create the expectation that if we continue to do exactly what we’ve done at the level we’ve done it, things will turn out fine.

That’s a hope, though. That’s not a business plan, and unless you want to trust your job to the ability of your bosses to navigate this transition, you need to be evaluating way more than just your ability to attract and retain an audience. You need to be looking at how your employer monetizes a digital audience and comparing that to how others are monetizing that digital audience.

Hopefully, the executives and programmers reading this will find the right answers, but in case they don’t, you absolutely need to be aware of the questions that are facing this industry.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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