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How a Brand With Promise Missed The Mark In Detroit

Jason Barrett

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The competitor in all of us wants to believe that by working harder and smarter than our competition we’ll gain an edge and ultimately succeed. We tell ourselves that with time, creativity and perseverance, we can gain the audience’s respect, outperform expectations, and give our employers the evidence they need to invest further in the development of our brand and people.

While those beliefs may be pure and the intentions of many may be noble, there are times in the radio business where brands are defeated before they hit the airwaves. Without full support, trust, vision, and patience from your company, you can’t win. The radio station can have talent, desire, a bright programmer, and people with a strong community connection, but none of that matters if your corporate bosses aren’t in it for the long haul.

For the staff of Detroit Sports 105.1 they learned that lesson last week. Greater Media Detroit may have been optimistic when they chose to explore the sports format in August 2013, but their strategy and commitment to unseat market leader 97.1 The Ticket was fractured. As a result, they’ve dropped the format in a great sports city in less than three years.

What makes this particular decision sting even more is that it should never have happened. Greater Media went through these exact same challenges and struggles in Philadelphia and should have learned from those experiences. Unfortunately they didn’t.

I have a personal connection to this story because I was hired to program what is now known as ‘97.5 The Fanatic’ in Philadelphia. Originally the brand was positioned as ‘SportsTalk 950’ and it launched in October 2005 without a Programmer. I was added four and a half months later and when I arrived, it was clear that the brand lacked an identity, talent, and vision.

I remember driving on Broad Street during my first Friday night in town, listening as one of our hosts opened his show with the line “Hey There, Hi There, Ho There”. That seemed so out of sync with the way I heard local people talking. That was followed up by the host announcing a ticket giveaway to see ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ at the Wells Fargo Center. This wasn’t his fault at all. He was just reading the information he had been told to deliver.

When the show hit its first commercial break, promos aired highlighting the brand as the ‘good guys of Philadelphia sports’ and the home for ‘great debate without the hate’. Given that the city had just held a parade where 10,000 people showed up to celebrate the city not winning a championship for more than two decades this once again seemed like the wrong way to reach people.

The brand at that time also relied on national programs to make an impression. We carried Fox Sports Radio in the morning, Tony Bruno’s Sporting News radio show in the midday, and Jim Rome’s Premiere Radio Networks show from Noon to 3. It wasn’t until 3pm when the radio station offered local content. National shows were heavily promoted in the liners, promos, and sports updates, and our attention to detail was so thin that one of our contributors who voiced sports minute’s on the radio station called Jim Rome – ‘Jim Ro-May’. That mistake wound up on the air.

It was a mess and I knew that it was going to take a lot of time and work to undo the damage that had already been done. Making matters worse was the fact that our brand name was the equivalent of white bread. Not Wonder Bread, Home Pride or Country Classic, just plain old white bread.

The station name ‘SportsTalk 950’ lacked buzz. It didn’t set us apart from our competitor. It didn’t sound like a brand name local fans would talk about in a bar or at a game with their friends. It simply screamed “If you don’t like WIP, please check us out”.

Given how emotionally charged Philadelphia sports fans are for their local teams and local sports radio personalities, it probably doesn’t shock you that they didn’t respond favorably to what we offered. The messaging wasn’t in tune with their passions, neither was the majority of our programming, and the strategy was flawed from the start. It wasn’t that the marketplace couldn’t sustain two great sports brands, or that local fans weren’t hungry for more sports talk. They just weren’t going to invest their time in a brand that didn’t meet their needs.

We had some talented people in that building (Joe DeCamara, Jody McDonald, Harry Mayes, Rob Ellis, Brian Seltzer, John Fullam, Paul Blake, Mike McMonagle). Some of them are still a part of the brand today. Where ‘The Fanatic’ now sits versus where it was then is a night and day difference and Matt Nahigian deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done building the radio station. Equally deserving of praise is John Fullam and the corporate team at Greater Media because they were patient, made adjustments, invested more, and learned from their mistakes.

Which leads me back to Detroit. If the company had these examples to learn from, how did they misread the signs? There were too many similarities between the two stations except in Philadelphia they stuck it out. In Detroit they cut bait. Take a look.

  • Detroit Sports 105.1 bailed on two Programmers (Jason Dixon and Dave Shore) in less than three years. In Philadelphia, myself and Gregg Henson both exited the brand before it had been on the air for three years.
  • The brand name’s in both cities were bland. Detroit Sports 105.1 rang hollow because the radio station didn’t serve enough Detroit sports talk to its audience until two years after launching. SportsTalk 950 went thru the same challenges in Philadelphia.
  • Both stations relied heavily on national sports programming and didn’t make major adjustments until nearly two years after operating in the format.
  • Neither station hit the airwaves with rights to a local professional sports franchise.
  • Each station faced a strong competitor with deep market heritage in a city where local sports conversation is important.

The danger signs may be easy to see to those on the outside but usually there are reasons why things happen. Whether it’s needing to ramp up sales efforts, keeping expenses low so bigger investments can be made to secure local play by play deals or strengthening relationships with network partners. Those things are all part of running a business. Unfortunately, the local audience, advertising community, local teams, other local market personalities, and the radio station’s own staff, don’t take a wait and see approach. They judge the radio station by the way it initially presents itself.

Sean Baligian, who joined Detroit Sports 105.1 to host the midday program in October 2015, and was moved months later into mornings, confirmed to the Detroit Free Press that the issues were seen and felt internally. “Detroiters want Detroit.” said Baligian. “I don’t think the station did a real good job of giving them Detroit from 6a to 6p and certainly not on the weekend. When you think about it, for the 34 months that the station existed, 30 of those months had a national morning show, quite frankly, a New York-based show. I just don’t think that’s a good business model. I think by the time they learned that, it was probably too late.”

There were two advantages that Greater Media Detroit had that the Philadelphia operation didn’t. First, they launched on FM, and secondly, they hit the airwaves in afternoon drive with one of the market’s most popular personalities Drew Lane. Lane may have not been the typical sports talk radio host but he produced solid ratings and brought awareness to the brand. None the less, he wasn’t re-signed two years into the relationship.

Morning host Tom Mazawey told the Detroit Free Press “Drew Lane was our linchpin. We built the station around him, and then they told him, ‘We want you to change your show after 30 years in the business,’ or whatever he’s been at it. We were fourth in the ratings among 25- to 54-year-old males with Drew as our lead. People loved him. Advertisers were lining up to sign up with him. Once they pulled him, that was the last straw.”

Greater Media did make an attempt to land the Lions and Tigers. Those efforts didn’t produce the results that they had hoped for. Had one of those deals been secured, this is probably a different story. In the Detroit Free Press article, Mazawey shared how poorly the Tigers conducted themselves during negotiations with the radio station, and that certainly can make a company question if the effort and commitment to the format are worth it.

It may be frustrating but these things happen in negotiations frequently. I was with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and we had interest in landing the rights to the Warriors and 49ers but neither situation worked out. Although we were initially disappointed, that didn’t deter us from making investments to further grow the brand. Play by Play certainly offers a lot of cume, marketing and revenue opportunities but it can also be a loss leader. That’s why most sports brands evaluate their business performance M-F 6a-7p.

In the end, Detroit sports radio listeners are left with one less listening option. A number of talented radio people are on the sidelines looking for their next opportunity. And Greater Media is left with a blemish on its record operating the sports format in Detroit.

I don’t believe for a second that two great sports brands can’t produce results or that the same type of spirited competition that exists in Philadelphia can’t be duplicated in Detroit. I just wish Greater Media had learned from their past experiences and been a little more patient.

Instead they chose to cut their losses and move on. I respect their decision to do what’s best for business. We can all point fingers and criticize but we’re not the ones losing millions of dollars annually. If it were your bank account that was shrinking on a regular basis, I’m sure you’d have a very different opinion.

That said, if you’re going to enter this format and have success in it, you have to be willing to commit from the start, take your bumps, and understand that it’s a long term play. Especially in a market where you’re up against a ratings juggernaut like 97.1 The Ticket. Greater Media decided that battle wasn’t worth staying in so now they’ve left the door open for another group to try their luck. That’s something I believe could’ve been prevented had they stayed the course and utilized a different strategy.

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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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