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Growing Sports Radio’s Bottom Line!

Jason Barrett

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For the past 19 years I’ve made my living in the radio industry. Most of that time has been spent in the sports talk radio format, a format which I love and believe strongly in. I’ve been fortunate to be trusted by various companies to manage their brands, create the vision of their radio stations and make personnel decisions to elevate the brand’s ratings so I have a high opinion of what type of connection can be built in this format between talk show host’s and listening audiences.

Nielsen Pic 1I equally believe that advertisers who invest in this format gain significant advantages by being associated with it.

For years I’ve listened to critics label this format as niche and take shots at whether or not sports talk radio could deliver real results for clients and it’s been frustrating to hear at times because I’ve personally witnessed many success stories. Conversely, sports television rarely has received the same venom or disrespect yet they target much of the same audience. While the numbers are certainly higher for television, the traits of the targeted consumer are no different.Nielsen Pic 4

I can personally recall running a promotion in San Francisco titled “Lucky Break” where we rewarded one undiscovered talent with a contract to work for the radio station for 1 year and while doing auditions, some contestants would weave in the words “reach us on the McDonald’s Text Line” without even being prompted to. That’s the type of connection this format delivers for advertisers better than any other.

When you look at the entertainment options available to people today, radio’s best chance to remain a priority is to offer content that is unique, people who stand out and brand associations that make your product cool. Fortunately for those of us who work in the format, sports talk radio possesses many of those ingredients.

sportsradioprofileThis format also targets an attractive demographic (Men 25-54) and that’s important to advertisers because this audience has something they want – money! The bottom line is that we’re all in business to grow business while additionally looking to raise the profile of our brands in a positive light so when a company forms an association with a sports radio station, there is an unspoken value and image benefit that comes with it.

When you look at how radio has evolved, in many markets now, the personalities on sports radio stations are seen by the audience as local rock stars, much like the local music DJ’s were viewed on radio and television in the 1980’s.newspaper

While 20 years ago the local newspaper was your source for information and opinion, today you get your information from social media and popular websites and you learn what that information means by tuning into your local sports talk radio personalities. It’s the exact reason why newspapers started creating podcasts, video commentaries and even full-time sports talk on their websites.

In 2013 BIA/Kelsey conducted their annual study on which station’s delivered the highest revenue in the nation and of the top 10 performers, 4 had some form of sports marketing involved with their product. WFAN in NY was the lone full-time sports talker in in the group and the other 3 (WBBM, WGN and WCBS) carried the Yankees, Cubs and Bears respectively.money

While one could suggest that the information in that study shows that the format has made progress, I could equally question why only 1 of the top 10 billing stations in the country was an all-sports station and why play-by-play is seen as attractive to clients yet the content created by personalities during the work week with audiences who are engaged in it isn’t viewed as important.

I was curious to get some insight on the challenges sports radio sellers face today and what they perceive as the format’s biggest advantages so I reached out to 5 different people who I respect in this industry to obtain their expertise.

In assembling this piece, I wanted to target 5 different markets and folks who have been involved in different organizations in order to illustrate some of the differences and similarities that exist in our industry. I think you’ll find the feedback provided by some of these great business leaders to be extremely helpful especially if you work on the programming side of the business.

PicMonkey CollageThe 5 featured panelists in today’s conversation are listed below. You can find out more about each of them by clicking the link on their names to be redirected to their LinkedIn profiles.

  • Paul Blake – Philadelphia – VP of Sales for Greater Media
  • Jessica Webb – Phoenix – VP of Sales for Bonneville Arizona
  • John Goforth – Chicago – Sports Sales Manager for 670 The Score
  • Payton Raymond – San Francisco – Director of National Sales for Entercom
  • Jim Heilman – Atlanta – Former Director of National Sales for 790 The Zone & GSM of WKNR Cleveland

misconceptionsWhat is the biggest misconception of the sports talk radio format in the advertising community?

Raymond: I believe the biggest misconception is how valuable the audience is. If you’re not a sports fan or listener to sports radio then there’s a big chance that you don’t see the marketing benefits of being associated with it. Sports fans are passionate and loyal supporters of the format. They always have an opinion and want to discuss the good and bad of their favorite teams. Listeners of sports talk also tend to have great qualitative profiles like employed full time, home ownership and college degrees. I believe that sports programming is not being measured properly by Nielsen and that puts us in a bad situation on paper when being evaluated by the agencies.

Webb: That it is super niche – all X’s and O’s. We refer to it as highly targeted, totally engaging (mostly) guy talk.

Blake: Agencies require ratings yet this format delivers results without needing to be a “top rated” station in the market.

Goforth: That our listeners are our callers. Agencies, and to a lesser degree, clients sometimes think of the sports talk listener as a 35 year old meatball who still lives at home and spends his disposable income on cheap beer and replica jerseys. The reality is that sports talk radio has the most affluent and most educated listener of any format in radio (according to Nielsen).

Heilman: That it’s limited to a very small audience. There are two places that people come to each week in mass regardless of the economy/weather/mood etc…Church and Sporting events. Everyone is a sports fan and the incomplete nature of the current audience measurement tools that exist today misconstrue the power of sports radio. While it is no doubt predominately a male audience, there are many female listeners. Also, I would argue that the audience is much larger and much more engaged than what is currently reflected in the ratings. Sports talk and play by play are the last remaining segment that people want to listen to or watch live, not record or DVR or passively participate with. A very underrated medium for sure!ratings2

How much do the ratings of your radio station impact your ability to continue driving rates and increasing your revenue?

Raymond: On a national level, ratings make or break a stations ability to drive revenue. In national sales there’s really no personal emotion unlike working with a local business who may love the format and its personalities and listen to it every day. Everything nationally must be justified with ratings and cost per points. There’s less focus on that locally.

Webb: This question fires me up like no other. I don’t believe that Nielsen gives fair and accurate credit to spoken word formats, not just Sports. That being said, our lives would definitely be easier with ratings. In spite of the lack of ratings, we will still post top 2 local and digital revenue in the market. But it’s a constant grind. There’s no easy money.

Blake: It can depend on competition. If you’re competing against another sports station then you need to be ahead of or within striking distance of that station. However, the ratings are not compared as much to music-based stations. It’s a great local direct results format.

Goforth: Minimally – rarely do you see a M25-54 avail come down from agencies, so as long as our ratings keep us in the agency fight, we’ll be fine. The direct conversation rarely involves ratings…it’s about results.

Heilman: Again it’s an old way to value and position. Create value propositions based on goals and objectives of the client and their target audience. Ratings to me are irrelevant. If a campaign meets my objectives (sales goals/drives in store/brand awareness) who gives a shit about the ratings…it works!scully

What type of importance do you place on having play by play on your station? 

Raymond: Play by play (pxp) is all upside for national sales. It gives you an asset to incorporate into media sales pitches that no one else can offer. Would you like to be the sports station with no play-by-play going into a client meeting following your local competitor and their pitch of being associated with a popular local team? PXP brings more audience to the station and also gives an exclusive product offering to clients.

Webb: Very important. We love the brand association and our team partnerships. We carry MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA football and basketball. It’s nice having that feather in your cap but it’s tough keeping sales people focused on selling all of it.

Blake: It’s great for branding but it also has to be a profitable venture.

Goforth: In my opinion, it’s the number one marketing tool we have. People tune in for the game on a Monday night and on Tuesday morning they’re listening to the station. Also, it’s great for credibility in the marketplace and client entertainment. From a revenue standpoint it helps with ancillary programming such as sponsorships of team-centric shows, play by play host appearances, and access to players, not to mention merchandising.

Heilman: Play by Play can be a major driver but again it varies by team, market and local audience interest.localnational

In your market, what is the split between local and national advertising? Do you see that split continuing in the future?

Raymond: National spot advertising is about 38% of the revenue in San Francisco which has remained consistent over the years.

Webb: National accounts for less than 10% of the billing in our building. I see it flat to down in the future.

Blake: 15% national and I don’t see that changing. It’s different by market though. For us we’re very close in proximity to NYC which is a factor.

Goforth: That’s an extremely tough question to answer as every company defines “national” differently. However, I think it’s fair to say that if “national” were an AE – they’d have the highest billing. As far as the future is concerned – I don’t know that I see it changing a ton (towards more national). Many clients enjoy the ideation and creativity that is spurred by having local reps.

Heilman: During my time selling sports radio in Atlanta, the split was roughly 40% national 60% local but every market is different.Value

How do you decide what your assets are worth? What do you do to make sure you’re receiving fair market value for them?

Raymond: Based on feedback and demand from advertisers. Our sales manager’s set the pricing for our assets.

Webb: All depends on the asset. Each situation is unique.

Blake: We continue to assess supply and demand of our assets and price accordingly per the needs of our clients.

Goforth: No matter where I’ve worked, the answer to this question doesn’t change. Assets are worth every penny a client will spend and nothing more. If something isn’t selling or gaining traction for whatever reason, the price either needs to lower or go away (this is assuming it’s being pitched enough and the value is being correctly demonstrated). Sometimes it’s best to punt on an idea so you don’t devalue the station. We sell a quickly expiring commodity and, like a hotel, once the day is gone…it’s gone. So sell it or move on.

Heilman: It’s driven by perceived value. It is what you make it. Often times stations and radio groups get too caught up in the numbers. It’s up to the station to create the hype and sizzle and position and develop the right program to make it valuable to the customer. If the customer does not value the idea or the station they will not pay for it.results

When talking to advertisers what is the #1 thing they seek more of from your brand? 

Raymond: Brand integration and ROI (return on investment). Advertisers not only want commercials but they want some sort of special integration into programming and play by play that will help drive ROI. Endorsements, features, ownership of assets are hot areas of ownership that can help accelerate sales and launches of brands. Digital programs would be a close 2nd.

Webb: Higher level association with our brand and on-air talent.

Blake: Engagement, custom ideas, great results.

Goforth: Passion – the passion of our listening audience helps sell their good or service. This comes from not only the passion for the teams, but for the hosts and the station as well. We’re originators of content. People can hear the latest Foster the People song anywhere – they can’t get their local guys’ reaction to the big win (or loss) ANYWHERE else.

Heilman: Results, partnership and perceived value would make up my top 3.future

Where do you see the sports radio format having its best opportunity to grow its business in the future?

Raymond: Unique programming, digital engagement and endorsements.

Webb: Continue to deliver amazing unique local content, hire sales people that are marketers not just sales people, and give them the internal support to succeed.

Blake: Much more of the same great things we already provide. This is an incredible results format.

Goforth: Digital – The digital space will account for 25% of all paid media spending this year and will be up another 15% from last year.  The buzz words you hear in the digital space all relate to brand integration and content origination.  We already do that!  Sports radio just needs to continue to evolve and expand the conversation digitally – opening up opportunity and different revenue streams as we do so.

Heilman: Embracing technology and getting out of the 1970’s. The last ones to the web and the last ones to integrated programming. Be proactive and not reactive. There needs to be cooperation and coordination at the agency and client level as well. Create the demand don’t react to it!

To learn more information about some of the great brands that our 5 featured panelists are associated with, visit their stations websites below.

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Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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