I’ve been fortunate over the past six years to work with a lot of sports radio stations across the country. I haven’t publicized most of those partnerships on BSM or my social media pages because I don’t seek validation for my work. Those who work with me know what I add to their organization, and as long as they’re pleased with my contributions, that’s all that matters. Any additional publicity they’ve received on this site has been earned by performance, not because they agreed to work with yours truly.
But today I am going to recognize a client because Steven Griffin and his team at 1010XL, 92.5 FM do radio the right way. Chances are you know little about Steven, even if you’re aware of his radio station. That’s by design. He’d rather his team earn the credit for their efforts, and focus his energies on serving the audience and his advertisers, instead of seeking the spotlight for his own contributions. Fortunately I was able to twist his arm and convince him to be a part of this series.
The first time I arrived in Jacksonville to work with Steven’s team, I walked in the front door to find a custom graphic on their front lobby television screen with my name on it welcoming me to town. As small as that gesture may have been to whoever created it, it made an immediate positive impression. It told me ‘we’re glad you’re here, thanks for making the time to come work with us.’ Those little touches can make a big impact when you do business with people. Having spent more time working with Steven’s crew since, I’ve learned that it wasn’t just a small trick used to impress people who walk thru the door. This is how they operate every day. It’s why I enjoy working with them.
What’s truly astounding is how 1010XL has managed to keep a successful air staff together for 15 years and continue thriving. Sports as a format features many talented, driven personalities seeking big stages and larger paychecks. Being able to retain top personalities in market 46 long-term can be difficult unless people love where they live, where they work, and who they’re working for. That becomes even more important when you consider that many of the talent at 1010XL have shared responsibilities in sales as well as programming. Yet as the station prepares to celebrate fifteen years of excellence, many of the faces and voices familiar to Jacksonville sports radio listeners are as excited and thankful today as they were when the station arrived.
Some corporate groups may have advantages such as more signals, more resources, more audio platforms, and larger facilities, but 1010XL is more than comfortable with the position they’ve earned – being Jacksonville’s best live and local sports radio station. Steven and his team believe in the power of radio, they’ve used their airwaves to help clients grow their businesses, and while others may run from the R word in search of other emerging opportunities, the Seven Bridges Radio group sees plenty of value in being identified as Jacksonville’s destination for sports talk radio.
As a standalone operator, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of Steven’s experiences, and pick his brain on the challenges that come with being locally owned and operated. Having built a business myself, I have a ton of respect and admiration for anyone who can create a vision, put it into action, and turn it into a success for a lengthy period of time. Consistent excellence depends on many factors such as producing results, treating people right, knowing when to take a risk or pass on an opportunity, building and maintaining healthy relationships, creating a culture that others want to be part of, and giving listeners and advertisers reasons to continue supporting you. That may sound simple and easy to execute, and for 1010XL it is because it’s part of their DNA. But rather than hear that from me, learn about it yourself from the Market Manager of Jacksonville sports radio station 1010XL, 92.5 FM, Steven Griffin. Enjoy!
JB: I know your first GM jobs were in Scranton and Jacksonville, but I want to start this conversation by going back in time to your initial entry into the radio business. Where did it begin and what were you doing?
SG: Out of college, I was a journalism major. I had thought about going to law school but after looking at the big LSAT catalog and thought ‘maybe not’. So there was a posting on the board about a new radio station being started in Morgantown, West Virginia where I was at. They were looking for people who could wear many hats, sell, be on the air, write copy, etc.. So I met with them and took that gig right out of school.
From there, I was in copywriting for a while in Charleston where I got more into the sales side. I saw there was more money and prestige in that side of the business. After that I left radio for about six or seven years because I got married and wanted to stay in Morgantown. Eventually though I got a call from the West Virginia radio corporation. The timing was right so I went back into radio and was fortunate enough to be with a good company as the sales manager of a country station. I was there for a while and then went to Greenville-Spartanburg for a while. After that I had a cup of coffee in Raleigh before going to Memphis as a Sales Manager for Entercom. Then came the call from a head hunter about the GM job in Scranton.
JB: When that call came and you were asked to lead an entire operation, how did you know you were ready to oversee everything not just the sales department?
SG: In West Virginia, Greenville, and Memphis I was one of those people who people would come to for help. When the folks in Scranton called I thought it was a good next step for me and I thought ‘I’ll see if I can do it.’ It was a big cluster, eleven stations, and they were spread out all over god’s creation. I saw it as a good opportunity to see what could happen if I gave it a shot. We were facing some healthy Entercom stations in the market, they had won for something like twenty years in a row. Fortunately for us, a year and a half in our AC station beat them and we had four or five of our stations in the Top 5. I made my share of mistakes but also learned a lot and next got a call from another head hunter about coming to Jacksonville to work for Salem. My family and I wanted to move back south. We loved the weather. So I took the job here. Spent some time with Salem. Things didn’t last with them, but it got me to the right place because now I’m here and have been for fifteen years and love what I’m doing.
JB: So being in the market for a bit gave you a chance to see how the market was being served from a sports radio standpoint. Given that you jumped on board to help build 1010XL, I assume you felt there was opportunity to grab a leadership position in the sports radio space.
SG: I did. I knew it was underserved locally. There was way too much syndication. Jacksonville is a great market for sports. There are super passionate fans here. They love the Jaguars, the Gators, the SEC schools, Florida State and there’s even interest in Triple A baseball and some of the other minor league sports. That’s not including High School sports which is a big deal here. So a signal became available, we looked at the opportunity, rounded up some local investors and one out of Chicago and decided to give this a shot.
JB: Do you remember what your original lineup was?
SG: That’s 15 years ago so I may be off on something but I’ll give it a shot. Dan Hicken and Jeff Prosser were still in morning drive. Rick Ballou and Tom McManus were together in the middays. I think Sean Woodland was involved in the middle of the day too. He was a TV sports guy. Frank Frangie and Mike Dempsey worked together in afternoons. And we also had an evening sports talk show, and Joe Block, who’s now a play by play guy for the Pittsburgh Pirates was part of it along with Terry Norvell.
JB: What’s impressive is that many of those names you just mentioned are still on the station and remain very strong. Knowing how this format constantly tinkers with things and loses good personalities to other situations, how have you managed to keep the band together?
SG: I think it’s a combination of not dictating, and trusting them to do what’s right on the shows, and continue looking at what’s best for sports in this market. I knew I had to get the best talent and it had to be local. To me, radio is a local companion medium. If you don’t have that person at the mall, restaurant or church who’s saying ‘hey I love listening to you, I like your radio station’, you’re missing the mark. That to me is what radio is and that’s who we’ve been. I wanted people here who people knew and who I thought had talent. And they do.
I also wanted to make sure we had a team that was dependable and proven. When we were fortunate to land the Jaguars seven years ago, I knew we had someone like Mike Dempsey who could host a show like Jaguars Today and do it justice. Jeff and Dan in the mornings have always done their own thing and it’s connected with our audience. We talk over the important things and they know the parameters and they all work well within them. When I’ve felt we needed a different perspective I’ve been able to call someone like you to come in and help and they still care about what they do and want to get better. Another thing that makes this a little unique too is our guys all generate revenue. They do great radio but also help create 25% of our sales. They’re accustomed to going out and selling themselves and the brand and it’s helped them make a better living financially while also helping the radio station.
JB: I’m glad you mentioned that because as you know, that’s not common everywhere. Your guys don’t seem like they’re bothered by having to do sales, they really seem to enjoy it and excel at it. How have you been able to keep them productive and interested in doing both at a high level?
SG: Honestly, I don’t have some magic answer for it. They all had it to begin with. They have a good grasp on the business. They’ll look at things and say ‘my show might be worth X in market 46 but if I can generate additional revenue on the sales end, it can bring my number higher’. They know the importance of it and what it means to the radio station’s sustainability. I’m lucky to have a bunch of guys who are self driven. We’re also far enough along now as a station with these hosts that there’s a certain level of credibility that’s been earned and that’s made it easier than it used to be.
When we started out though it wasn’t easy. The recession hit in 2008, a year or two after we started, so we took our lumps. But having gone thru that, I can tell you that when the pandemic hit last year, the station did better than most in the market and some other sports stations who we talked to during the past year. Our hosts lost almost nothing. They kept most of their business intact. Maybe a month off here or there, but by the time football season arrived it was all there. It was kind of amazing and tells me that if the station didn’t get results, clients wouldn’t stay. But they do get results, and our guys are really good at building and maintaining relationships. Sales will never be their #1 focus though – it will always be the on-air show. That’s what they love to do. But they’ll never miss an opportunity to prospect a new client or make a call to keep a client happy. That was ingrained in them so I can’t take credit for it.
JB: If you were in another market, would you try to replicate this same strategy?
SG: Absolutely. I don’t think enough talent understand their influence. These guys take it seriously and they earn talent fees for doing it. They connect with their advertisers and make sure that when they’re doing live reads for them that they give it a personal touch. A big reason why we’re a #1-#2 local biller in this market is because of our talent selling. If I were in some other town and had enough local talent, I’d absolutely do the same thing because it works.
JB: In your market, you have to compete against others for ad dollars as a standalone. Unlike some of the other corporate groups, you can’t go in with a pitch involving 5-6 stations. How are you able to create that feeling that advertisers need to be on your radio station?
SG: The first thing is that we are unique to the market because we’re live and local so much. If nothing else, we’re a local radio station and we’ve never changed that. We’ve never dropped in Dan Patrick or Colin Cowherd when they’ve been available just to save a little money. Pretty much M-F 6a-10p we are live and local. We can do a lot of things during that time whether it’s endorsing, tailoring a special piece of content, all because we have that flexibility.
The second thing is, we don’t swim in the same pools that some of the corporate folks do. Our strategy has always been to focus on local accounts for local radio. We have some agency business but it’s mostly local agency. We don’t get a lot of regional, and absolutely no national business. We don’t accept a lot of those national deals because the rates just don’t make sense for us.
When you’re dealing 1 on 1 with our company and the owner or client is meeting me, the sales manager, the hosts who are delivering his endorsements, that goes a long way. Sometimes it might be a husband and wife duo and they come in with their son or daughter to watch the show for a bit. It’s very much a relationship where both sides want to help each other. Radio is still entertaining, fun, and informative, and it has value for local businesses. We go after accounts and are very strict telling our sales team ‘don’t waste your time here or there, this is who we are so let’s do what we’re good at.’ Because we get results, they stick with us. When we go visit somebody we’re not meeting with the manager of a chain. We’re visiting the owner himself. That helps.
JB: You mentioned the word unique and that’s probably the best way I’ll describe this next item because what you’ve done in Jacksonville to elevate the perception of women as on-air talent is unique. Jessica Blaylock, Amanda Bourges, Mackenzie Thirkill, Lauren Brooks and others, have all earned opportunities on the radio station, but what especially stands out is how you’ve put them together for a Tuesday night show titled ‘Helmets & Heels’. Given that this is such a heavily dominated male format, why was it important to you to put women together on the air and give them a chance to host shows, and what have you learned from doing it that might be helpful to others in the format who are reading this and might consider doing something similar in their own markets?
SG: I never looked at gender. It’s about the voice and what it has to say. I would listen back in the day to Jessica, Donna, Lauren and others and their perspectives stood out and added something to the conversation that we didn’t have available on the radio station. It wasn’t rocket science. We had a lot of time available as a local station so we took these different voices and put them together. I’ve been fortunate to see many of them move on to bigger and better things and now when they come back and think about us it’s usually positive.
What I have learned is that it’s a never ending process. You have to continually look. When I started the show I thought it had potential one day to be a daily show. I’ve got a good team on the air now and even then we’re talking to someone else about doing some shows with them. That’s just what you do to keep something working. Our best shows tend to be when we have 4 of them together, but it also depends on the mix. The bottom line, you have to be open to different ways of presenting content to your audience.
JB: You recently did a business deal with the University of Florida to bring Gators Athletics on to 1010XL-92.5 FM. How important was that move for your brand?
SG: We’re very excited about it. It only took us 14 years to get it (laughs). After the Jaguars, which is and will always be our #1 priority, on our station they’re undefeated, the next biggest sports entity in town is the Florida Gators. 15-18 years ago when I got here, the Gators were extremely popular. That was when Steve Spurrier just left. I think there are somewhere between thirty and forty thousand Gators football season ticket holders in Jacksonville or the First Coast area, and I know Tampa and Orlando are bigger but Jacksonville has a lot invested in the Gators.
When the deal became available previously, we went after it pretty hard. I knew that we would mostly get inventory in game. There were no rights fees or anything like that. I thought it was a relationship worth pursuing and we’d have a chance to monetize it while simultaneously helping them tap into more of their fan base here. We didn’t get the deal. They chose to stay with iHeart because they had been with them for twenty years or so and had great relationships there. We were disappointed, but I understood the situation.
But then their station in Jacksonville flipped to Gospel, and we started getting calls because I think they missed airing a couple of games. I told them ‘if you need help, just let me know, no obligation.’ I made sure they knew we wanted them. Then one day out of nowhere, I was meeting with Dan Hicken from the morning show, and he asked ‘have you heard anything about the Gators?’ All of a sudden the phone rang and it was Learfield IMG telling me they wanted to go with us. We were obviously excited. So they sent over the deal and we’re now working with them for the next 4 years. All we did on our end was make sure we were prepared in case the opportunity came up.
JB: You brought up before how important the Jaguars are to your station. They’re the lone professional franchise in the market so they have massive appeal to your listeners and advertisers, not to mention a strong influence. How do you navigate the relationship when the on the field results aren’t good? Everyone in your building would prefer they win so it keeps people excited, tuning in, and clients wanting to spend more money to be associated with them, but if they’re not delivering wins, critical opinions have to be shared by your talent because the audience expects honesty from them. How do you essentially serve the audience without ticking off a value business partner?
SG: When Jaguars president Mark Lamping got here, one of the first things he said was ‘we don’t want you guys to change a thing….if we’re not good on the field, you can say that. Be who you are.’ He understood. I have never told anyone to tone it down or don’t say that or laid out guidelines for what can and can’t be said about the team. I think everyone on our staff understands the value of the partnership, but we also respect and value our listeners, and are truthful with them.
I will say this, everybody likes to preach hope even sometimes when it’s not there. I think on your website Mike Dempsey said ‘it’s almost better when they’re not doing well because everyone wants a shoulder to cry on’. I don’t agree with that 100%. When you’re a few games below .500 and there’s no hope for landing a playoff spot, that to me is the worst spot to be in but I can tell you that in 2017 when the Jags advanced to the AFC title game this place was on fire. There are passionate fans here. They want to support the Jags. With Urban here now and Trevor expected tomorrow night, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. We’re glad to be partners with the Jaguars, but if the results aren’t there on the field, we have the flexibility to address what’s going on.
JB: I want to ask you about working without numbers. Your brand has been very successful without subscribing to Nielsen, generating consistent revenues year after year. You’ve demonstrated you don’t need the data to operate a productive and profitable business. But how do you evaluate the progress of your brand without that information?
SG: Two words – Jason Barrett.
SG: No seriously. I know I don’t know everything and everyone in here doesn’t know everything. I try to read and learn things all the time but having people around who can bring things to the table to help us improve is important. I try to get consensus when we’re looking at things. Some managers will say that’s not a good move but for us in our family atmosphere, it is. I never make a big decision without asking for input. It doesn’t mean I still won’t go with what my gut tells me but I’ll always listen to what sales, the air staff and engineering have to say. I guess if there’s a downfall to not having the ratings it’s not being able to go in and see how each show looks with Men 25-54 and other demographics but we hold our own.
JB: Having a talented, professional lineup though that’s been part of the community for 15 years and possesses good content judgment and sales relationships probably makes that something easier for you to live without.
SG: It does. I read Jeff Tyler’s comments last week where he talked about KFAN and how they brought in the talent, gave it time to grow, and now it’s become its own little entity. We may not be KFAN but maybe in Jacksonville we’re similar to that to our audience and advertisers. He made the point about people listening and not being able to get it at first and I can relate to that. We have some of that here. We’ve been blessed that our investor base has been patient with us and allowed us to go thru some ups and downs and a few mistakes I made along the way but we never knee jerked anything and we’ve always stayed committed to being live and local. Fortunately we’ve had people want to stay here, work here, and succeed here.
JB: I’ll wrap up with you on this. You’ve gotten more involved with original podcast content, video, the focus on social has grown, and you’ve also added Action Updates from VSiN. The sports media landscape is rapidly changing so all of these things are important. When you look at the future of sports talk, what are you keeping your eyes and ears on that you think are going to be important for the growth of your brand?
SG: Well, it depends. As a standalone, we’re never going to have the resources that an iHeart, Cox or Audacy have. I can’t go out and buy every audio platform that’s out there. One of the advantages we have is being able to turn on a dime when we need to. When sports betting becomes legal in Florida, and I think it will, we’re going to be able to take advantage of that. Video we have found to be advantageous, at least so far in the first quarter, and it’s helped us not only sharpen our tools as a sales organization, but it’s allowed us to sponsor some new things using the talent we have that have TV skills. We haven’t even touched the high school or local realm of some of the things we’re going to do.
And then as far as podcasting is concerned, we’ve taken valuable advice from someone who may or may not be part of this conversation and have focused our efforts on doing fewer things really well and sponsoring them instead of trying to do twenty or thirty or forty and have most of them miss the mark. Some of these things may move a little slowly and we’ll gravitate and work quicker towards the ones that we can monetize and deliver the most value for our fans. I can tell you, we’ve done a good job creating quality programming and selling our inventory but there’s always room for improvement. We’re always looking to get better. We can be a little more patient and selective because we’re not dictated to by some corporate place that’s thousands of miles from us and doesn’t know us very well. We have investors who know this market, they support our vision, and I want to please the market that’s here because they’re a big reason why we’ve made it this far.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.