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Pivoting and Being Bold Helped BSM Survive 2020

“It’s easy to wait for the stars to align perfectly to make decisions or stand pat because things are fine at the moment, but changing tomorrow’s outcome requires having a feel for what’s coming, and the conviction to act decisively. Not doing so can hurt your brand or crush your business.”

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From the Desk of Jason Barrett

Most people will likely remember 2020 as a year they’d like to forget. Between worrying about the health and safety of family and friends as a result of the coronavirus, watching the lights go out on the sports world for months, colleagues forced to work remotely and feel out of touch with society, and seeing businesses suffer the wrath of the pandemic, including the sports media industry, it’s been a year full of bad news. 2021 holds no promises of a bounce back year either, but given what we just endured over the past ten months, I think it’s safe to say that anything else is welcomed at this point.

I’m going to produce a column next week which will look back on some of the standout performers and moments from sports media in 2020, but I want to use this space today to share a few lessons I learned from operating a company during a challenging year, and pass along a few updates and thoughts related to our 2021 plans.

For starters, I discovered that there’s nothing more important than understanding how critical it is to pivot in business and not be afraid to be bold. So many in our business use these words in conversation and they look good when printed on a website but how many have actually followed thru and done it? It’s easy to wait for the stars to align perfectly to make decisions or stand pat because things are fine at the moment, but changing tomorrow’s outcome requires having a feel for what’s coming, and the conviction to act decisively. Not doing so can hurt your brand or crush your business. I wrote a story about this earlier this year, highlighting how a local florist reacted. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, you should.

Being completely candid, I wasn’t sure if BSM was going to survive in its current form back in early April. When the shutdown hit in March, I knew it could be bad. In late February we hosted a successful BSM Summit in New York City. One month later I was preparing for likely cancelations to my consulting business. I never assume that any of my client relationships will last forever. I know I’ve got to prove my worth every year. I also know that the cost for my services don’t appear on the first page of the budget, the sheet which identifies essential staff. That means I can deliver great value and have management’s complete support, but if a station loses 50-60% of their revenue, my phone may ring with bad news.

BSM Staff

Sensing that the worst could be headed our way, I knew we had to make a bold move and go all-in on original content. In May, we did that by adding six writers to the staff including Jay Mariotti who has been a tremendous addition to our team. Though nobody gets rich here from contributing, the collective expenses do add up. Adding all of those folks made no economic sense whatsoever at the time, but I felt this website mattered to industry people, and I knew that if we were going to continue to serve the sports media industry that I’d have to look past the short-term financial setbacks and focus on building a stronger staff to help us elevate our content, and display strength during a critical time.

We began ramping up our content, launching the BSM Member Directory to help broadcasters seeking opportunities, debuted the ‘Managing The Crisis’ podcast to share insights with executives dealing with the downward spiral caused by the pandemic, placed a greater focus on selling advertising opportunities on our website, and tightened up our SEO strategy to have our content appear better in search. We also added a new layer to the company, announcing our entry into news radio consulting in September, and added the website Barrett News Media to begin serving the news media industry. We wrap up 2020 with fourteen people contributing and earning compensation from BSM and eleven being paid to help us on BNM.

By making those decisions, we were able to triple our website traffic, grow memberships to thirty plus people, add new advertising business from multiple partners, and kick off BNM with monthly activity similar to where BSM was two years into its existence. Keep in mind, BNM has only been a brand for 90-days. I dodged a bullet and only lost two clients during the pandemic. Though it stunk to end working relationships with some great brands and people, the hard work we invested paid off as months later we added three new clients.

As proud as I am of our ability to maneuver the business thru a difficult year, I endured a personal challenge in 2020 which I didn’t talk publicly about. I went thru a struggle with my voice from September to December. I kicked off Season 5 of the BSM Podcast with a few killer episodes (Sam Savage, Mike Greenberg and Chris Oliviero) but had to halt the show because I had days where I could barely talk. Though I hate starting and stopping projects, I knew that if I couldn’t rely on my voice being strong, I’d have to stop the podcast in order to save my energy for client calls. I learned I had a cyst on my vocal chords, which thankfully isn’t cancerous and is common among folks who speak a lot. My voice has been stronger over the past few weeks but I’m planning to get the issue addressed during the first quarter of 2021. For those of you who have enjoyed the conversations I conduct with industry leaders on the BSM Podcast and wondered why the shows stopped, now you know the reason. I’m hoping to dive back in sometime in 2021.

The news wasn’t all bad though on the personal front. Despite having to delay a wedding, cancel a WrestleMania trip with my son, miss out on opportunities to work with staffs in local markets, and battle vocal chord problems, I did finally buy a home. Having rented 16 different homes or apartments in 15 towns over a 22 year stretch, it’s nice to finally be settled in. If there’s any advice I wish I had been given early in my career it’s to expect to move around a lot and rent more than you buy. Now that I’m living where I want to be and running my own company, I’m not worried about where I may have to move to chase the next opportunity. One great perk of my new residence is that it has a large finished basement area. That will soon become the working office for BSM, and in time I will build out a video room and production studio for podcasting in order to create more content in the future.

BSM Summit

I don’t have all the answers on how to survive a pandemic. A shutdown could hit in early 2021 and cause more damage, and I may be writing a different story then. I just did what any small business operator would, I tried to analyze the situation, examine which paths would and wouldn’t make sense to explore, and create new ways to keep the business alive. I also understood how vital it is to use my platform and relationships to help people. As a consultant (I still hate that title) I do everything from helping brands improve content, branding, imaging, structure and ratings, recruiting, social/digital planning and execution, conducting research, and making recommendations or introductions. What most don’t see though is how I can help on the sales end. A few brands who I think highly of earned advertising buys from agency friends of mine in 2020 as a result of my recommending them. These things don’t happen all the time and they may not always show up in a consulting contract but during a pandemic year when profits were evaporating, it helps having people in your corner who care about helping your business grow. BSM closes 2020 in good shape and is positioned well entering 2021. That doesn’t happen without great loyal clients. To all who stuck with us thru a challenging year, it’s sincerely appreciated.

Entering 2021, I’ve been asked a few times about the BSM Summit. Due to the uncertainty in the country, it’s on pause until further notice. Once America is back to normal we’ll begin planning for it because we know it is enjoyed, appreciated, and well attended by the industry, but to lay the groundwork for it without an idea of when things will be stable again would be a bad business decision. When we do start putting together the next event I can share that it will be hosted again in either New York City or Los Angeles. Moving it around will have to wait a bit. Until then, we’ll sit tight and wait until it’s safe to assemble a large group of people.

While we wait for the green light to gather and assemble another star studded conference, we are planning to host a virtual event in 2021. We have a few ideas in mind that we’re excited about. The key is making sure we can find the right video provider who can deliver a strong technical experience without bankrupting the company. I’ve had a few productive interactions so far and once we’re ready to make an announcement you’ll learn on the BSM website what’s coming and how to be part of it.

Additionally, the BSM Top 20 of 2020 will be released February 1-5 and February 7-8. We will reveal the Top 20 local morning, midday, and afternoon shows in both Major and Mid-sized markets. We’ll also unveil the Top 20 sports stations, program directors, national sports talk shows, and original podcasts. Similar to prior years, more than 50 executives will be involved in the voting process to determine the winners. Altogether 240 shows, stations and/or personalities will be recognized. We’ve asked our voters this year to rely on the ear test, and take into account originality, and a show/hosts ability to entertain and connect across multiple platforms when making their selections. If an executive wants to factor in ratings success when casting their vote, that’s fine too. The only thing that we insist on is a show finishing the year in the timeslot it’s up for consideration in. We do have one sponsorship opportunity available for the BSM Top 20. If interested, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. This is the biggest thing we do each year on the BSM website.

Barrett News Media

Among my list of priorities for BSM heading into 2021 is finding more sales support to help us grow our online business. We reach a lot of decision makers and influential talent on this website, and our visitors and page views are higher than the monthly cume on some top sports radio stations. Our social media impressions are also consistently between four and five million per month. We’ve earned the industry’s trust and respect as a content outlet over the past five years, and I know we can help brands benefit from promoting their products on our websites. If you need a recommendation, ask Justin Dove of Core Image Studio how advertising with BSM has paid off for him.

Two other areas I’d like to dedicate time to in 2021 are developing our BSM merchandising strategy, and growing the BNM website. We will launch an official online store in the new year on BSM, and I’m also going to explore utilizing some talent for paid marketing to help us increase the awareness of the brand. I’ll also be looking to increase editorial support and add more writers to BNM to help us grow our presence in the news media space. If you or someone you know is involved in news radio and has a passion to write about it, email Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

In closing, I want to thank each of our writers for consistently producing great content, but I especially want to recognize Demetri Ravanos for not only doing a great job as our editor, but for being a great partner and friend thru some difficult times. We have an outstanding crew at BSM, and though the faces and names may change when folks land opportunities, we keep finding ways to move forward with new talented people because Demetri and I never stop recruiting people who love this business as much as we do. If we can help our readers stay informed about the business, improve at their craft, develop relationships, or position themselves or their brand for future success, that’s what makes the work we do rewarding. It’s cool to see so many people interested in reading our content, and I could write a few more paragraphs about it but this column is long enough. Instead I’ll end it by simply saying, Thank You, Merry Christmas.

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John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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