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FOX Sports Creates a Stir With Its New Digital Strategy

Jason Barrett

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FOX Sports is under media attack after releasing a number of staffers from their digital department. The company is trying to modify its digital strategy and the new vision set by Jamie Horowitz has created a mixed response. Some who have lost jobs have taken to social media to express their gratitude or frustration towards the company, and others have talked off the record to Awful Announcing about their disgust with the company’s new approach.

If you haven’t read the piece that Ben Koo put together it’s worth your time. It highlights some of the internal disconnect that was taking place as departments clashed and tried to get a better handle on how to be more effective in the online space.

When I heard the piece was being produced by AA I expected it to carry a negative slant towards FOX Sports because the majority of content pieces about the company on AA lean in that direction. Some may still take exception to the piece and hint at Koo having an agenda, but I thought Ben did an excellent job and tried to be fair with his reporting. Maybe the article doesn’t project the best image for Horowitz but clearly some people inside of FOX Sports weren’t unified in the digital vision for the company.

As I digested the article, I came away with a few thoughts. Allow me to share them with you.

First, whether it was passed along from someone who was let go or from someone who presently works for FOX Sports, sharing private and sensitive information about a company’s strategy is weak. I’m not naive enough to think that leaking sensitive information doesn’t happen all the time, just look at the political world, but when trust doesn’t exist between management and its employees, it’s only a matter of time before changes occur.

I’m not privy to who did and didn’t get along inside of FOX Sports. If the emotions felt in the article though reflected what was being displayed behind closed doors, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Horowitz and his management team aren’t shedding tears over the loss of some talented people who didn’t share their same enthusiasm for FOX Sports’ online future. Those who departed are also probably glad to rid the turmoil from their lives and turn their time and energy to a new situation.

Second, anytime cuts take place it sucks. I don’t like seeing anyone in the industry lose an opportunity, but it’s a reality of the business we’ve chosen to work in. As I was sifting thru the comments online about the staff reductions I saw a few people point out how the people behind the scenes too often pay the price yet it should be the ones in front of the camera or microphone who suffer for a company’s failures.

I’ve been one of those guys behind the scenes. I loved producing and programming sports radio shows and stations, and without qualified, creative, hard working support players, the talent aren’t as crisp and the product isn’t as good.

But let’s not lose sight of what the public comes to a brand for most; the faces of the franchise.

When you buy an admission ticket to a movie theatre, you pay to see the actors. That doesn’t make the work done by writers, producers, camera operators or graphic artists any less important but without the stars, the film doesn’t put butts in seats.

The same formula exists in every other form of the entertainment business.

If you go to a concert to watch a band play live, the musicians get the credit. The road crew, manager, and sound guy might play a vital role in the production, and for their efforts they may receive a pat on the back and an invite to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after the show, but its the band who gains the limelight and all that’s associated with it.

Turn on a professional sporting event and the players on the court or field earn our admiration, while the ball boys, trainers, chefs, and members of the PR staff gain the occasional thank you and a paycheck on the 15th and 30th of the month. Those folks behind the scenes all play a part in making sure the athletes are taken care of to do what they do best, but the reason people pay high prices to watch a game is because of the players.

The next item which stood out, was Horowitz’s belief that putting the name of the network’s high profile television personalities behind written content was better for the overall ability to generate clicks and increase business. I’m not sure how anyone could find fault with that approach. If a column was produced by FOX Sports and had Skip Bayless’ name on it, it’s much more likely to generate a ton of activity than if the column had my name on it.

Pundits have been quick to pounce on FOX Sports for using ghost writers and pushing their personalities as the main attraction but are we really suggesting that featuring the company’s most recognized talent isn’t a bright idea? You may not like Cowherd, Bayless, Jason Whitlock or Shannon Sharpe but they are a lot more likely to generate a click and emotional connection to a piece of content than lesser known writers, reporters and behind the scenes people.

And do we really think ghostwriting doesn’t already occur? I was stunned by how many people took issue with this.

For example, I think The Player’s Tribune does a fantastic job with their website, but do you really think all of those athletes are sitting down to write columns? Not to mention, writing them as if they had spent 10-15 years in the print business?

Not a chance.

If the material is delivered by a recognizable public figure and a professional media member cleans it up and helps it look its best before clicking send to share it with the world, what’s the problem with that? It’s no different than what producers do on a daily basis to help great on-air talent create memorable on-air content. I’ve witnessed outstanding producers like Justin Craig, Paul Pabst and Ray Necci feed lines, facts, jokes and opinions to hosts to present on the air, and I’ve been in that exact position myself. The brains behind the operation are there to support the talent and it’s the host’s job to create, execute and be held accountable for it.

The final opinion I want to express may make a few people upset but it’s how I and many others in the media feel.

Raise your hand if you were visiting FOXSports.com on a daily basis. Now keep your hand up if you could name 4-5 things on FOX Sports’ website (not video related) worth clicking back for regularly.

Those of you who put your hands up, either stop lying or return to your cubicle inside of FOX Sports’ headquarters.

The majority of people I’ve talked to in this industry over the years would tell you that FOX Sports’ website was an afterthought. I don’t doubt that many inside the operation weren’t talented or working hard to make it better and I’m not suggesting that Jamie Horowitz’s commitment to pushing online video and eliminating written content is the holy grail of solutions. What I do know is that when I’ve talked to people about where they turn to for sports information, opinion, analysis, and entertainment, FOX Sports’ website was rarely in the conversation.

When you ask people about their preferred online sports destinations it’s common to hear them recall ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Others may list Barstool, The Ringer, The Player’s Tribune and Pro Football Talk, or local newspapers or league/team specific sites where they turn regularly. The majority of those brands thrive without the benefit of a television network promoting their digital content.

I remain a believer in the value of great written content, reporting and analysis but I can’t blame companies for shifting their position towards heavier video distribution if the public and advertising community places higher value on it. In business there’s an old saying “fish where the fish are” and whether it’s popular or not, FOX is trying to reverse its existing online position of being persona non grata and deliver a digital experience that generates more interest and revenue, while aligning their web focus with their television strategy.

In the AA column, Jamie said something during his presentation to staffers which I think is valid. He commented that “the written word is still relevant, but the advertising value of written content, what we call display, is not growing.”

Therein lies the struggle.

I love to read and visit many websites each day for quality written content, but let’s be honest, how much more likely are we to recall content, let alone an advertiser’s message, if we hear it in audio or see it in video? It takes much more work, time and focus to read and process written material, and it lacks the emotional connection that we gain when we watch or hear something. From a business standpoint, the placement of a client’s message at the top part of a website or in the middle of a written column doesn’t generate half the activity that those other options provide.

As I mentioned earlier, seeing good talented people lose employment opportunities isn’t fun, but we have to be mature enough to separate our feelings for individuals from what’s best for a brand’s business objectives. Anytime change takes place in our industry it’s met by immediate overreactions, yet people quickly forget the reality of the situation.

I realize the debate culture frustrates many sports media traditionalists, but national personalities with strong opinions produce interest. It’s why so many of you reading this column right now are able to recall every single smart and stupid thing uttered on the air by hosts like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd, etc.

I’m also aware that FOX has been pretty outspoken and cocky since arriving on the scene. For that reason alone, many in the industry want to see them fail. But whether they’re arrogant, smug, bullish or smart, the real question is whether or not FOX Sports was due for a digital makeover. If the existing strategy was thriving I don’t believe they’d be making wholesale changes.

It’s fair to question if our industry is devaluing intelligence and analysis in favor of sensationalism, but it’s hard to support that stance when the results show that people would prefer watching a LaVar Ball rant over reading an informed column from a top notch writer. It may frustrate those of us who love to read and write but from a business standpoint, if people are drawn to a car crash then it’s the brand’s job to produce more accidents.

As someone who runs a business, I’ve seen this firsthand. I can write a detailed analysis on a specific industry topic that should help an on-air talent or executive and it might generate a few thousand clicks. But if I create a top 10 list or a strong opinion piece on a polarizing show like First Take, it delivers 5-10x the amount of traffic. People may say they don’t prefer that style of content but their actions tell a different story.

Whether it’s popular or not, FOX Sports’ website hasn’t been great, and the brand’s digital content and social currency lagged behind its competitors. Maybe Jamie Horowitz’s digital video strategy will crash and burn, but I’m not going to act surprised or complain about a company taking a chance to reverse its digital irrelevance. It’s easy to be a face in the crowd and operate in the land of white noise, but instead FOX made a difficult choice and took a giant risk to increase their odds of success. In that respect I give them credit.

When a boat has a leak and the water is pouring in, you either abandon the ship or patch it up. FOX has done a ton of patch work over the years, and Horowitz decided it was time to jump aboard a different boat. That decision will either help him arrive safely on shore or sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Either way, it’ll be a journey worth following.

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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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