I think most people in radio wish their career could look at least a little bit like Dan Bennett’s. The man has worked in the same city and same cluster, working his way up for the past 37 years.
Since 1999, he has served as the vice president and market manager for Cumulus Dallas. His cluster includes some of the company’s most valuable brands including three music stations, two news talkers, and the well known Sports Radio 1310/96.7 The Ticket, a sports radio station every bit as important to the history of the sports talk format as WFAN, WIP or any other station in the Northeast.
The well respected Dallas leader cleared some time from his schedule to connect with me to discuss the challenges of building a bench behind legendary talent, the pressures that come with being a company’s top revenue generator, and why you’ll never hear a host on The Ticket talk about a third string running back at SMU. With nearly four decades of success under his belt, when this man speaks, industry people are wise to listen.
Demetri Ravanos: You’ve been involved with The Ticket for a long time and I’ll get into the specifics of that brand, your talent, and lineup later, but I want to start by focusing on program directors. Not just at The Ticket, but all of your stations. You have six brands to look after. When it comes to filling a key role and determining who to place your faith in to lead a brand forward, what do you look for? Does the desire to be in Dallas for the long haul factor into your decision making?
Dan Bennett: I think that’s really important, and I realize sometimes that people have other opportunities they may want to go and pursue. I think one of the advantages we have is that this is a top five market. Just the other day, they released new market sizes. We’re now number four. Once you get to a top 10 market, you don’t run into the same issues with people wanting to move up and up the way you might in some other places.
I originally came from the programing side. So I tell all of our PDs up front that I listen to all of our stations a lot. I talk to the PDs all the time about product and content and everything else, because it’s real simple, we’re the company’s biggest market for revenue and the only way we’re going to get there is if we get ratings. You can only do so much with mediocre ratings.
I meet with our PD’s every week. I also oversee Houston, KRBE there. I mean, I’m really in tune. When I hear outdated promos or outdated commercials or whatever, I’m texting them. When PD’s come here they know and understand that they’re working for a guy who came from the programing side. And you know, I’m really lucky because my team embraces it. I’d imagine that maybe some people out there wouldn’t like that situation, because most market managers come from sales. I’m fortunate in my career that I’ve been involved in both.
We’re here to win and I’m here to help them do that. I always tell them that I just have one rule. That is when I hear a mistake or something that isn’t right, I’ll let you know about it and don’t ever say it came from me. I don’t want the PD to call somebody and say, “Hey, Dan heard you mispronounce this guy’s name” or “Dan heard you with the date of the promotion being wrong”. What I try to do with the PD’s is I try to empower them.
DR: So is that the way you feel you need to run the building so that you’re comfortable doing the best job that you can? Or if you had a talented programmer at any station who said, “Dan, this is one of the reasons I’m looking for something different is I need to be able to do this on my own”. Is that something you’re open to pulling back on at all?
DB: Look, every department head, including me, has to be accountable to somebody. What you’re describing is “I don’t want to be accountable to anybody”. And that wouldn’t work.
DR: That’s fair.
DB: Even the best PD’s in the country cannot listen to their station 24/7. What I’m here to do is maybe catch something that you didn’t know about and then you can pick up the phone and deal with it. Again, I’m here to be your wingman, not to play a game of gotcha.
DR: So going back to the idea that people stay with your stations for a long time, let’s talk specifically about The Ticket. I’m sure you saw not just in your city, but across the sports broadcasting landscape the emotional reaction towards Mike Rhyner deciding to call it a career. I believe we’re coming up on two years, right?
DB: Yeah. You know, when Mike told me he wanted to hang it up, it was right around Christmas. I told him to take two weeks and think about it because I didn’t want him to have a knee jerk reaction. Rhyner is such character that he came into my office, and in that gruff voice of his, he started out by saying “Dan, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve lost my fastball.” That was his way of telling me it’s time to hang it up.
I believe we’re fair to the air talent. We’ll pay you a good salary, but you’ve got to show up and put points on the board. You know, there’s a lot of people out there that want to go to a big station and make big money. And that’s fine. But you have to do your part and deliver ratings.
DR: Some of those guys that have delivered ratings for you, The Musers, Norm Hitzges, are going to reach a point sometime down the road where they too knock on your office door and say, “Dan, I think it’s time”. You’ve grown with these guys for so long at the radio station, does that make it harder to think about that day or do you sort of fall back on the old college athletic director stereotype of always having a list of five names available because you never know when you’re going to need to pull it out?
DB: This is why we’re always developing people, whether that be a producer that gets to pop on the air every once in a while and next thing you know, they’re on the air or more and more and more. I mean, Corby Davidson came up that way. Danny Balis came up that way.
Shoot, Donovan Lewis, who does the noon show with Norm, he was a board operator who worked for me on KLIF. I’ll tell you how that happened, how we put him on the air. Donovan is one of the best guys in the world and he’s funny. One day I was in the kitchen in the break room and he had about five people around him. He was telling stories and had everybody laughing hysterically. I just sat there and watched this guy who’s a board op, and I remember going to Bruce Gilbert, who didn’t want to do it at the time, and when Bruce left and Jeff Catlin came in as PD, I said “We ought to try this guy, because I think he’s got something. He does stand up in the company kitchen. Plus, he really knows and loves sports. We ought to start just putting him in”. He’s the greatest guy in the world. Everybody loves him. He’s funny and he’s smart about sports.
So we’re constantly looking, whether it is in the break room or in a producer booth or a part time guy on the weekend. Who are we developing for that day when these long term guys decide they don’t want to do it anymore?
DR: I want to circle back on something you said earlier about being the primary market for revenue generation within the company. Last year, every company, every business went through the challenges of the pandemic. When you have the company’s spotlight on your performance, is there added pressure when the whole industry is facing challenges and everyone is trying to figure this thing out on the fly?
DB: Well, I mean we’re the company’s number one market for revenue and cash flow. Yeah, it becomes a lot of responsibility. I’ve been the market manager since 1999. I have been here since 1984. That’s 37 years. I mean, I’m used to the pressure. If you want a big job, then you better be able to handle the big responsibility. And it’s not just me. It’s all of my department heads. A ton is expected of us. That’s just the way it is.
I think this is a really good recent example. I needed another sales manager and felt that I needed to make a change on the music side for reasons I won’t go into. I hired Dawn Girocco, she was our market manager in Los Angeles. When we sold KLOS to the Meruelo group, they didn’t keep her. My belief is when you hire department heads, do not hire beneath you. Hire at your level or somebody who is good at something that you’re not.
Dawn had been a market manager in Los Angeles and I hired her to be the director of music sales. I think that that’s how you deal with the pressure, by having really incredible department heads all around you. People fail at this when they hire beneath themselves. That’s absolutely a fact.
DR: Do you have a vision or blueprint in your mind of what works for an advertising partner in 2021? Do you have a set of trends you can point to, whether it’s Ticket clients or clients at any of your other stations, that you can say “This is what our most successful advertisers are doing. So I know it works across the board”?
DB: Yeah, I do. It’s the association with our talent who have been there many, many years. I mean, the average person on The Ticket has been there for like 22, 23 years.
Getting an endorsement now is way more than a live spot on the air. Now it’s social media and many times it’s a video. It’s a pre-roll video. It’s all these other things that your business can align itself to thru a personality. It isn’t any different than a GEICO ad. Look at all the different famous people that do GEICO ads. We have really well known local people. I will tell you, our music stations have more endorsements by the talent than any music station in town.
I think our talent is the number one asset that we can offer our clients, whether it be through an endorsement, an appearance, or due to the ratings they generate on the radio station. Even if you don’t have a Norm or Donovan doing your endorsement, the fact that your spot is on during our show gives you a better shot at making sure that the commercial works. I just think our best asset is our on-air talent. I really do.
DR: So you talked in there about the idea of an endorsement not just being the live read anymore. And that sort of dovetails into something that I’ve been thinking about a lot across the board, not just with The Ticket or your cluster. Is there any sort of consistency that has developed in terms of trying to get a new client on air? Before it was very much about the personal approach. But now I wonder how much of it is just selling the idea of radio as opposed to all digital or any sort of other new media that there are always deals and plenty of options to get in on?
DB: Well, we sell the concept of radio, your base buy and why. It really is involved in selling it in combination with digital. We try every time we go out to combine the two. Some people buy it on that. Some people don’t. When you can take two different mediums like digital and radio and even some of the podcasts that our guys do and combine them all together, then you have a consistent message, which is important. Then you can make it all work in concert with one another, and have a better chance of being successful. I think radio is doing a better job of embracing this thing called digital, but not by selling it and abandoning radio, but by making them run in concert with one another.
DR: Let me ask you about the social side for a minute, because part of my job with Barrett Sports Media is studying brands all over the country. I would say, looking at social, The Ticket is a little less active than most major market stations. I wonder, is that something you want to see improve or is that a strategic choice on your part?
DB: Do you mean in terms of the advertiser and being incorporated into our social media?
DR: Not just that. I mean just the amount of content you guys put out on social.
DB: Well, yeah. Quite frankly, Jeff Catlin and I have talked a lot about this. I think we need to do more of it.
We’ve got a guy that we hired on The Wolf, Jason Pulman, to do afternoon drive. It’s a heavy personality show. The guy is just entrenched in social and the amount of ratings he’s been able to generate in four months has been unbelievable. So I think that’s probably an area that we can improve and do more of. I think you’re going to see that elevated over the next three to six months.
We’re always looking at ourselves and asking, “if you were a competitor to us, how would you come at us?”. You know, we can’t get so full of ourselves that we think we can’t get beat. Everybody can get beat somehow.
DR: Honestly, that’s why the question was, is it a strategic choice? Because I’m not even sure that it is incorrect necessarily, because one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year is that not everybody in the industry has had success selling digital products. Maybe they’ve had success selling it as part of a package with on air. But I’ve often found myself wondering if, as an industry radio has put more focus on digital than it is ready to at this point.
DB: You’ve got to be careful. I’ll give you a perfect start. Believe me, we are focused on digital. We’re focused on selling it. However, in the last Miller Kaplan in the market, this is the whole market, 83 percent of all the revenue was still spot revenue. So, the careful thing there is don’t take your eye off 83 percent chasing some other shiny object.
That’s why any sales presentation really needs to incorporate both. Look, social and all that, that’s great. Whatever the air talent do, that’s great, but if the content that comes through the speakers isn’t good, I mean, you can promote on social media crappy content and they’re not going to listen to it. That’s why you’ve got to watch all of it, because it’s not just one thing. It never is.
DR: I’d love your insights on the growth of Dallas as a sports radio market. You guys have remained this behemoth even as challengers have arisen. 105.3 The Fan has tightened the race, but you’re no stranger to local sports radio competition. There’s never been a moment where another sports/talk station could say ‘we’ve firmly put The Ticket in the rearview mirror’. What do you attribute that to?
DB: One of the most important things is to always keep your feet firmly on the ground and not get full of yourself. We’ve all had bad books or books where there was a hiccup or whatever.
I do think one of the things that is dramatically changing, and I think Covid had a big effect on this, is the way people consume radio and sports radio. Many times you are listening through your phone. Most guys nowadays don’t have a clock radio on their nightstand. They get up in the morning and they stream The Ticket. The last book, 50 percent of The Ticket’s ratings were coming from streaming. A contact of mine at Nielsen said that there is no radio station in America that comes close to that.
So many of these men that listen to us had to work from home. And here we are a year later and still 50 percent is being consumed on stream. I mean, that’s changed dramatically. That’s why a station like The Ticket is total line reporting. We did that in October and it’s been a big help.
DR: What’s funny is you talked about most guys not having a clock radio in their house anymore. I’ve got an 11 year old daughter and we have just sort of gone through the fight of you cannot sleep with your iPad and phone in your room anymore. We went out to buy her a clock radio and found very few clocks include a radio anymore. I mean, it’s so crazy that alarm clocks, it seems, are very much embracing the idea that this is not where people listen anymore.
DB: You’re right. That’s why we’ve got to be accessible. Any of the platforms like Alexa that we’re available on, we have to be sure that we’re able to count those ratings. Before we went to total line reporting, we weren’t able to do that.
Here we had a whole bunch of listening sitting over on our stream, but we weren’t able to count any of it. Of course, when you go to do that, you know Nielsen is going to charge more money. But we made that decision and it was the right one for us.
DR: We recently ran this piece on the strategy of selling news stations and sports stations as a combo, and received a lot of feedback from all over the country that it’s now harder than ever before because there are so many advertisers that view news talk radio as the the shining example of the divide in this country. Some feel being associated with it, whether you mean to or not, means that you’re choosing sides. Are you seeing that in Dallas?
DB: Yeah. The thing is when we had Rush Limbaugh, we would have certain, mainly national advertisers that wouldn’t want to run on his show. We have two teams. We have a news, talk and sports team, and we have a music team on our sales staff. However, if a music seller has somebody that wants The Ticket and there’s nobody calling on that account on the news/talk/sports side, they can go over and sell it.
There is a bit of that with conservative talk radio. There’s always going to be, but I think it was more of a national issue and more about Rush Limbaugh than anybody else.
DR: Really? I’ve been critical of of news talk because I think one of the format’s failings is that for so long, programmers were just looking for the next Rush. Even though he’s no longer with us, there are still plenty of clones doing a similar show. It’s interesting to hear that for the most part, what you saw was specifically with Limbaugh.
DB: Most of the pushback that we have gotten is from national accounts. Now, I am not going to tell you who, but we have a car dealer in this town. It’s a big one. They won’t advertise on The Ticket because of the content.
DB: Yeah, they think there’s too much innuendo and guy talk and discussion about the sophomoric things that oftentimes get brought up on a sports station. They just won’t do it, and they’re a big advertiser. So, it can happen on the sports side, too, when somebody doesn’t want to be associated with something that they deem not appropriate.
I think on the news talk side, and boy, we’ve really worked at this, the biggest problem is that so many of the talent want to get on the air and jam their agenda down your throat rather than playing the hits. We had to have some pretty intense meetings with a couple of people on the air on our news talk stations. I said, “you’re jamming your agenda down people’s throats and you’re trying to change their minds”. When people are 40 or 45 or 50 or 55 years old, you’re not going to change their political sway in one way or the other. The best thing you can do to attract a bigger audience is play the hits.
Just like in sports radio, when Dak Prescott blew out his leg, that was the story. If you’re on the air in this town and you aren’t talking about what happened in yesterday’s game to Dak, you’re not playing the hits. I think a lot of these news talk shows just totally quit playing the hits, and they wanted every day to jam a political agenda, that’s part of why I think news talk struggled.
We had to make some real fundamental changes with a few of our talent to start playing the hits or this wasn’t going to work anymore. Fortunately, we’ve made a lot of progress.
DR: You brought up the advertiser that objects to what you called the sophomore nature of The Ticket. I do feel like I need to ask you, you’ve got this great bit on The Musers of the Fake Jerry Jones that sometimes performs better than the real Jerry Jones calling into the competition. You have been with the station through its whole run. There has to be a moment that you can point to and say “that is when I knew our approach to sports radio was perfect for this market”.
DB: I was at Susquehanna. We bought The Ticket in 1996. I’ll just say somebody in the company said, “well, we need to change those guys and talk about real sports”. And I said, “no, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand. They’re on to something, and what we’ve got to do is we have to champion it, encourage it, support it”.
Look, if you’ve ever gone to a game with a group of guys, just think back in your life. One time we took a group of clients to a Mavericks game in San Antonio. And at the time, I was probably in my mid 40s. You know, it’s a bunch of guys and everybody’s married and we’re on this trip and it was just clients. It was everything from a discussion about the game, to who’s going to go get the next beer, to “Oh my God, look at what just walked right outside of the arena!” and they’re pointing at some attractive woman.
Guys don’t sit around and just talk about sports statistics all day. They talk about every aspect of sports, which includes the camaraderie, the game, the crazy people in the stands, the next beer. I think what The Ticket tapped into is the mindset of the ideal listener. They’re not so myopic in their view about sports. The people who fail at this or the people that, get on the air and want to talk about the third team running back for SMU. Well, I’m sorry, but nobody cares. I think what our guys have done is they’ve tapped into what men really talk about.
Kind of an interesting example is my wife. She grew up with four brothers. She was the only girl. She loves The Ticket, is a P1, listens every morning. Okay, so why is that? Well, because she grew up with four brothers and understands brother humor and gets it. You know what’s interesting? When I run into women who don’t like it, many times they are women didn’t grow up with brothers.
The Ticket tapped into how guys think, how guys act, what guys want to talk about, and they’re just really in tune with the demo. That’s why The Ticket has been a success. We aren’t so myopic that all we do is talk about serious sports, but a lot of these sports stations, that’s what they do. They don’t get it.
What they do is they go out and hire a sports writer. Well, I can tell you, I’ve tried that. I’ll tell you, most of the time it doesn’t work. You’d be better off hiring a guy at the end of the bar who holds court every night and and talks sports. Hire somebody like that.
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.
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