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The XFL’s Return is About Strategy and Second Chances

Jason Barrett

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Imagine for a minute what it would be like if we didn’t allow people to learn from their mistakes and earn second opportunities. Bill Belichick wouldn’t be leading the Patriots into another Super Bowl. Nick Foles wouldn’t be starting against him. Steve Jobs wouldn’t have saved Apple and turned it into a global success. Oprah Winfrey wouldn’t have become a revered TV personality. Jay-Z and Lady Gaga wouldn’t have become international music stars.

I could list example after example, but you get the point.

Failure owns real estate on the highway to success. You can try to avoid it, but at some point in your life, it’s going to suck you in. What’s important to remember when you face it is that it’s there to teach you a lesson. It may bruise your ego and make you question if you’re good enough or on the right track, but nobody reaps a lifetime of rewards without having their convictions challenged and their confidence rattled.

blankI bring this to light because on Thursday, Vince McMahon announced he was ready to gamble a second time on the XFL. The league is scheduled to begin play in 2020 and McMahon is hoping this time to learn from his past mistakes and see his dream of running a successful football league finally become a reality.

When the XFL folded in 2001, it was in bad shape. Sponsors fled. So too did the league’s television partner, NBC. Most importantly though, the audience had rejected the brand because the on the field product was inferior to what they were accustomed to watching.

McMahon at that time tried to introduce sex, violence and sideshow antics to give people a reason to tune in, coupled with appearances by WWE personalities. The problem with that formula was that although Americans can’t turn away from observing a car crash, once they see what’s taken place, they drive away. Which is exactly what they did every time an XFL game appeared on their TV schedule.

As bad as the original XFL on the field product was, some of the league’s ideas were good. Players were mic’d up. Unique camera angles were introduced. Player introductions were featured before the first series of play. They were innovative at the time, and wound up becoming a bigger part of the NFL’s television experience.

Upon announcing the news, social media was flooded with people declaring the league dead upon arrival. I ran a poll question on Twitter asking folks what percentage chance do they give the league of being successful the second time around. 58% said 0-25%, 23% went with 26-50%, 13% voted for 51-75% and 6% gave it a 76-100% chance of succeeding.

blankWhat I find interesting about that is that we haven’t learned our lesson. We’ve allowed our memories of the old XFL to shape what we think the second version will be. We’ve also read into comments made in a press conference and decided from them whether or not this league will work. We haven’t seen one player signed, one game played, one media partner added or one football executive hired to help McMahon make the most of his second chance.

I point this out because when the XFL held its introductory press conference nearly two decades ago, they promised an aggressive style of play and a whole lot of male focused entertainment. They also fired a few shots at the NFL. The public ate it up, and once the league began airing their edgy promos, mainstream interest grew. It spread so fast that the league’s first game was watched by an estimated 14 million people, helping it deliver an incredible 9.5 rating. The problem was that after football fans tuned in, just like a car crash, they observed the scene and drove away.

None of us know whether or not the XFL will work in 2020. But what I love about this story is how it involves strategy and the pursuit of redemption.

One thing to know about Vince McMahon, when he sees an opening, he seizes it. It’s why the WWE Network has become a success, WCW is no longer in business, and why brands like YouTube, Facebook, E and others have invested millions in doing business with him.

blankIt’s no secret that the NFL has turned off a lot of fans with their willingness to allow players to speak their minds on social and political issues. The decision to give players a choice of either standing, sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is another which has troubled people and generated a lot of negative national media attention.

But that’s not all.

NFL TV ratings have declined each of the past two seasons. Booth reviews and over-analyzing the rules have led to debates over what is and isn’t a catch, QB’s have been treated like they operate behind a force field, pass interference often affects the outcome of games, and kickoffs have been changed to discourage collisions between players running at maximum speed.

Add to the conversation CTE issues, frequent stories of players being arrested (does Ray Rice ring a bell?), and a seven month period where the most popular sport in our country goes on hiatus, leaving fans starving for something to sink their teeth into. That’s especially noticeable during the months of February and March.

When you take all of that into consideration and combine it with the rise of social media and brands such as Amazon, Twitter and Facebook expressing interest in paying for content, sports betting being on the brink of legalization, and the WWE’s television deal with USA expiring in September 2019, you can see why McMahon is rolling the dice.

So how do you take advantage of those opportunities? You do what McMahon is doing.

For starters, the XFL will play a ten game season starting in late January or early February. That’s right when the NFL ends their season and interest is at its peak. The rule book will be simplified to keep the pace of the game fast, commercial breaks will be shorter to retain interest, and traditional things like a halftime break will be eliminated to make games shorter. McMahon also plans to incorporate fan participation and online activities into the XFL experience.

blankThe biggest noise was made though when McMahon announced that any player who competes in the XFL will be required to stand for the national anthem, and players with prior arrests will not be invited to participate. The WWE Chairman and CEO said he’s looking to provide family friendly entertainment and place the focus on the game of football, not on issues beyond the gridiron.

Given his lifelong connection to the world of professional wrestling and the XFL’s prior use of WWE stars, many wondered if McMahon would align the two brands again. Recognizing how that could affect the perception of the league, McMahon said the WWE’s talent will have zero involvement with the XFL nor will any members of its broadcast team. He also made it clear that he was looking to stay out of the spotlight himself and hire smart football people to help him create a high quality football product.

McMahon’s strategic approach is smart and one that each broadcasting executive would pursue if faced with trying to launch a product opposite a dominant competitor. Whether it’ll work or not will depend on what the product looks like in 2020 and what the football fan’s appetite is for more football right after the NFL season expires.

But not to be forgotten in this story is the lesson of learning from failure and taking second chances.

Vince McMahon is an entertainment industry hall of famer. He built the WWE into an iconic brand by taking risks, among them creating WrestleMania, which had it failed, would have likely bankrupted the company. He didn’t need to invest his money and gamble again on the XFL, but it’s a project he loves and is passionate about it. As a result, he’s taking a second chance to try and get it right.

blankMaybe this will turn out bad and Vince’s legacy takes a hit. But ask yourself this question, if you were 72, highly successful, and had the stain of the XFL on your professional record, would you have the guts to try again to erase that mistake or would you just let it linger and take it with you to the grave one day?

The reality is that most people in McMahon’s shoes would’ve worried too much about their reputation being tarnished to risk pursuing the same dream that became their worst nightmare. It’s easy to operate safe and avoid publicly being ridiculed but learning from mistakes and bouncing back is what makes many of the things we do in life important.

As I think about this story, I’m reminded of a scene in the movie “Pursuit of Happiness” where Christopher Gardner (Will Smith) tells his son, “You got a dream? You got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves so they want to tell you that you can’t do it. If you want something, go get it.”

Well, Vince, you deserve credit for crafting a good strategy and having the courage to try again. But this time, you’ll need more than that to make this work. Football fans are going to expect a quality product. If they don’t get it, they’ll once again have two words for you, “You’re Fired.”

Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

Barrett News Media To Gather The Industry in Nashville in September 2023

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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One of the best parts about working in the media business is that you’re afforded an opportunity to use your creativity, take risks, and learn if an audience or advertisers will support your ideas. Sometimes you hit a homerun, other times you strike out, but regardless of the outcome, you keep on swinging.

I’ve tried to do that since launching a digital publishing and radio consulting company in 2015. Fortunately, we’ve delivered more hits than misses.

When I added news media industry coverage to our brand in September 2020, I knew it’d be a huge undertaking. The news/talk format is two and a half times larger than sports, many of its brands are powered by national shows, and the content itself is more personal and divisive. I wanted our focus and attention on news media stories, not politics and news, and though there have been times when the lines got blurred, we’ve tried to be consistent in serving industry professionals relevant content .

What made the move into news media more challenging was that I’d spent less time in it. That meant it’d take longer to find the right writers, and it required putting more time into building relationships, trust, respect, and support. Though we still have more ground to cover, we’ve made nice strides. That was reflected by the participation we received when we rolled out the BNM Top 20 of 2022 the past two weeks. Hopefully you checked out the lists. Demetri Ravanos and I will be hosting a video chat today at 1pm ET on BNM’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and through Barrett Media’s YouTube page discussing the series, as well as this article.

It’s because of that growing support, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing that I’m taking a risk yet again. I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.

I am excited to share the news that Barrett News Media will host its first ever BNM Summit on Thursday September 14, 2023 in Nashville, TN. Our one-day conference will take place at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center Ballroom. The venue we’ve selected is tremendous and I’m eager to spend a day with news/talk professionals to examine ways to further grow the format and industry.

If you’re wondering why we chose Nashville, here’s why.

First, the city itself is awesome. The access to great restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and famous landmarks is unlimited, and when you’re traveling to a city for a business conference, those things matter. Being in a city that’s easy for folks across the country to get to also doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, a conference is harder to pull off if you can’t involve successful on-air people in it. If you look at Nashville’s growth in the talk media space over the past decade, it’s remarkable. Many notable talents now live and broadcast locally, major brands have created a local footprint in the area, and that opens the door to future possibilities. I have no idea who we’ll include in the show, and I haven’t sent out one request yet because I wanted to keep this quiet until we were sure it made sense. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interest in participating and I can’t promise we’ll be able to accommodate all requests but if you have interest in being involved, send an email to Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

Third, finding the right venue is always difficult. We looked at a bunch of great venues in Nashville during our vacation this past summer, and when we stepped on to the campus at Vanderbilt University and walked through the SLC Ballroom, we knew it was the right fit. It had the space we needed, the right tech support, access to private parking, a green room for guests, and it was within walking distance of a few hotels, restaurants, and the Parthenon.

As I went through the process of deciding if this event was right for BNM, a few folks I trust mentioned that by creating a Summit for news/media folks, it could create a competitive situation. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a responsibility. I think we need more people coming together to grow the industry rather than trying to tear each other down. I hear this far too often in radio. We worry about what one station is doing rather than strengthening our own brand and preparing to compete with all audio options.

For years I’ve attended conferences hosted by Radio Ink, NAB, Talkers, and Conclave. I’ve even spoken at a few and welcomed folks who operate in the consulting space to speak at my shows. I’ll continue to support those events, read various trade sites, and invite speakers who work in a similar field because they’re good people who care about helping the industry. I believe BNM and BSM add value to the media business through its websites and conferences, and though there may be a detractor or two, I’ll focus on why we’re doing this and who it’s for, and let the chips fall where they may.

I know juggling two conferences in one year is likely going to make me crazy at times, but I welcome the challenge. In the months ahead I’ll start lining up speakers, sponsors, building the conference website, and analyzing every detail to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain and deliver an informative and professionally beneficial event. The news/talk media industry is massive and making sure it stays healthy is critically important. I think we can play a small role in helping the business grow, and I look forward to finding out on September 14th in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

Hope to see you there!

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Jimmy Powers, Raj Sharan, Matt Berger and John Goforth Added to 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

“BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. Individual tickets are reduced to $224.99 until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET.

Jason Barrett

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In less than a hundred days, the BSM Summit will return to Los Angeles for two-days of networking, learning, laughing, and celebrating. The conference hasn’t been held on the west coast since 2019, and we’re looking forward to returning to the city of angels on March 21-22, 2023, and bringing together sports media professionals at the Founders Club, located inside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California.

For those of you who haven’t purchased your ticket(s) yet, BSM is having a special Holiday SALE this week. From today (Monday) through Friday 11:59pm ET, individual tickets are reduced to $224.99. If you’re planning to come, and want to make sure you’re in the room, take advantage of the extra savings and secure your seat. To buy tickets, reserve your hotel room, and learn more about the Summit’s speakers, click here.

We’ve previously announced twenty one (21) participants who will join us on stage at the 2023 BSM Summit. Today, we’re excited to expand our lineup by welcoming four (4) more additions to March’s industry spectacular.

First, BSM is thrilled to have two accomplished sports radio programmers contributing to the event. Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit will make his Summit debut in L.A.. Fresh off of a Marconi victory earlier this fall, The Ticket’s brand manager will share his insights on the present and future of sports radio on one of our programming panels. Also taking part in that panel will be the leader of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, Raj Sharan. Raj appeared on stage at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC, and we look forward to having him return to lend his voice to an important sports radio programming discussion.

But programming won’t be the only thing we invest time in out west. Growing a business, more specifically, a digital business will be part of our conference agenda as well.

When it comes to maximizing digital revenue, few brands understand the space better than Barstool Sports. Charged with growing the brand’s revenue is Senior Vice President and Head of Sales Matt Berger, and we’re looking forward to having Matt join us for a conversation that will focus on monetizing digital opportunities. Before joining Barstool, Matt sold for Bleacher Report/House of Highlights. He’s also worked for Warner Brothers and the Walt Disney Company. We’re excited to have him share his wisdom with the room.

Also taking part in our digital sales panel will be John Goforth of Magellan AI. John knows the radio business well from having served previously as a sales manager and salesperson. Since leaving traditional media and joining Magellan AI, John has studied the podcasting advertising space and learned who the top spenders are, who’s making big moves with their podcast advertising budgets, and which publishers are best positioned to benefit. Having his expertise on stage will help many in the room with trying to better understand the digital sales space.

There are other speaker announcements still to come. We have some big things planned, which I’m hoping to reveal in January and February. I want to thank ESPN Radio, FOX Sports, Showtime, and Point to Point Marketing for coming on board as partners of the 2023 BSM Summit. The support we’ve received heading into Los Angeles has been tremendous, and we greatly appreciate it. If you’re looking to be associated with the Summit as an event partner, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

That’s all for now, but be sure to take advantage of the Summit Holiday Sale. You have until Friday night December 23rd at 11:59pm ET to take advantage of discounted tickets. Happy Holidays!

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