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WFAN-Mike Francesa Reunion Raises Many Questions

Jason Barrett

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There are times when sports radio news stories break and put me in a very awkward position. I believe strongly in transparency and honesty. No matter how much money is on the table, when all is said and done, the one thing that I’ll always own are my personal thoughts and opinions. I’ll sell those insights to help brands achieve success but what I won’t do is sell my soul to any person or group looking for a favorable spin, especially when the news doesn’t warrant it.

That can be a slippery slope when you operate as a consultant, strategist and trainer.

Fortunately, I have established a lot of relationships in this format, and I value those connections. I think those who know me or read this website understand that my intent is to raise the format’s profile, make people better, and offer a fair and objective opinion or analysis when its warranted, even if the news from time to time hits close to home.

On the other hand, I’m also a business man. I have partnerships with multiple companies. I respect and value those who work with me regularly and am proud of the fact that most of my clients have been loyal for multiple years. My partners know that I love this business and invest myself in their success and work hard to help them grow all areas of their business. When they find themselves in the news for a less than flattering reason though, they know I have to report it because after all, that’s a key focus for this website.

Despite working with many stations, I’m not unwilling to give credit where it’s due to competitors and I avoid taking personal slants against those who I don’t work with. I believe in being fair and keeping relationships strong with everyone because you never know when your paths may intersect down the line.

But just like each of you reading this column, I too have opinions, and when sports radio stories break, many expect me to offer my thoughts. Given the recent developments in New York at WFAN surrounding Mike Francesa’s expected return, it’s a news story which warrants a reaction, even if it might not please a few folks close to the situation.

When I first heard about the possibility of WFAN reversing its direction and bringing Mike back, I thought there was a lot of smoke but no fire. After all, the station went thru a two-year search to find his replacement(s) and the new show hosted by Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott had only received one full ratings quarter.

But in the radio business, as we’ve seen many times, patience can be thin, and changes happen quickly, especially in places where the stakes are incredibly high.

When The Michael Kay Show beat WFAN head to head in the winter book, I thought CMB would be on a short leash. Is that fair? No. But this is WFAN and the expectations are enormous. You’re looked upon to smother the competition so the radio station can continue generating high revenues while further elevating its profile as one of the best sports radio brands in America. You’re also expected to maintain the same standard of success that came before you regardless of the circumstances.

Expectations aside, don’t forget that The Fan was forced to change two dayparts this fall due to Francesa’s highly publicized exit and Craig Carton’s arrest. You can hire a bunch of talented people but usually when you ask an audience to form a connection with four new hosts at once, something doesn’t go according to plan. That’s why you don’t see brands overhaul their lineups on a regular basis. Radio success is largely dependent on consistency.

Also during the fall, Entercom purchased CBS Radio. It takes time for a new owner to wrap their arms around their new investment, and install new policies. What’s sure to gain their attention when they’re publicly traded and under the eyes of the entire industry is when one of their flagship brands hits a speed bump.

In the case of WFAN, the station has been a ratings and revenue winner for a long time. If the station is perceived as not being as formidable as it once was, sphincters get tight and adjustments get made in order to regain client and listener confidence before profitability takes a hit.

But what makes the issue complicated is when you consider the amount of time WFAN allowed for dealing with substantial changes, and Francesa’s difficulty of moving on from The Fan.

No matter how you slice it, the public narrative is that Mike Francesa overestimated his worth on the open market. He spoke about his understanding of the digital space and how he had a plan to excel at it, but since leaving the terrestrial space he hasn’t made a dent. He talked about having a number of irons in the fire, but so far those conversations have only led to guest appearances on multiple shows.

On the flip side, WFAN management shares blame due to their inability to deliver a strong post-Francesa plan.

It took less than six months for station executives to lose faith in CMB in afternoons and drink again from the cup of Francesa. According to reports, CMB were given two-year deals. That suggests that folks involved in assembling the show went into it by dipping their toe in the water instead of diving in. If you think I’m wrong about that, try signing Chris Russo, Max Kellerman or Adam Schein to a two-year deal and let me know how it turns out.

When you make a move of this magnitude, you’ve got to be firmly committed to it. You’re going to take some hits early on, especially in market #1 when you replace a legend like Francesa. It’s like a heavyweight title fight, you have to withstand the early attacks and take advantage in the later rounds.

In this particular case, Chris Carlin was well known by CBS/Entercom folks. He was working in Philadelphia at WIP and doing well with Ike Reese in afternoon drive before making his return to the big apple. Maggie Gray and Bart Scott on the other hand were newbies to full-time sports radio hosting. All three had to gamble and bet on themselves because after all, this is afternoon drive in New York City on WFAN. If they knocked it out of the park, they’d have the advantage in the next round of negotiations. If they didn’t, they’d be remembered as the show that couldn’t replace Francesa, and that puts them in the same company as many shows/hosts who’d fail in that spot.

But what can’t be denied is that Mark Chernoff and his inner circle had time to prepare for this situation. They had two years to scour the globe in search of talent. Guys like Mike Valenti, Chris Simms and Chris Christie earned auditions. Max Kellerman, Chris Russo, Adam Schein and Sid Rosenberg were mentioned as candidates. The company had access to all of CBS Radio and CBS Sports Radio’s personnel. Given the market location and resources, this was a sought after position, and anything less than a successful transition would raise questions about management’s ability to move WFAN forward after Francesa.

What’s perplexing about typing that last sentence is that over the years, few in this format have done a better job when their backs are against the wall than Mark Chernoff. When Imus was fired, he added Boomer and Carton. When Sid left, Evan Roberts was added alongside Joe Beningo. When Chris Russo left, he trusted Mike to win solo and it worked. I don’t forget those successes. But past success doesn’t promise future success and this problem is far from over for Mark and his team.

Making the issue even messier was the New York Post’s report that circulated Tuesday evening. Francesa apparently struck a deal directly with Entercom CEO David Field. The decision was made without Chernoff being on board. If that’s indeed the case, expect speculation to increase about the WFAN programming boss’ future, especially if Field gets further involved with future programming moves.

One also has to wonder which side Entercom VP of programming Chris Oliviero is on. Did he support Field’s decision to rehire Franecsa? Or did he side with his longtime colleague and trusted supporter Chernoff? If it’s the latter, that could create tension between Field and two of the company’s most important programming minds, Chernoff and Oliviero. If he backed Field though, how does that affect his longtime relationship with Chernoff?

Nobody is going to argue with Francesa’s talent or ability to make an impact on the radio, but don’t forget folks that Mike is 64. At some point in the future, they’re going to have to replace him again. Whether it’s next year, two-years from now or three-years later, the situation is unavoidable because Mike isn’t going to work forever.

There’s also no guarantee that Mike’s ratings will be what they’ve been in the past. During the fall book, The Michael Kay Show was tied for 3rd while Francesa was 2nd. This was a period of time where many folks were expected to listen even more to Mike since it was thought to be his farewell tour on The Fan. Francesa did win the head to head battle against Kay and exit without ever suffering defeat to his local rival and his track record in the ratings should inspire confidence that all will be right in the world once he reclaims his place behind a WFAN microphone. That said, even the best in the business eventually slow down. To expect Mike to stay on top for another 5-6 years is asking a lot.

So when that day does come and Francesa exits again, then what happens? If you’re David Field and you’re operating Entercom, would you feel optimistic that your group can identify the next superstar to carry The Fan forward for the next decade when the last time out they didn’t deliver and you needed to get involved? What if you’re a talent or an agent pursuing that opportunity? Are you going to sign a two-year deal with a station to replace Francesa when the last group to try had the rug pulled out from under them after one full book?

What I don’t understand is why this problem couldn’t be solved during the fall before the radio station set up three new personalities to fail. It was well documented that Carton’s arrest wasn’t a good look for The Fan. Entercom was taking over CBS and retaining their most high-profile star would’ve been a good PR move. It also would’ve provided a good PR rub for Mike because he’d be seen as the guy being loyal to his longtime radio home during a time of turmoil rather than needing to use the media to try and create a market for his services as a free agent.

Although it might have made sense for both parties to figure it out this past fall, it didn’t happen, and here we are five months later cleaning up a number of spills.

One thing I did find surprising when The Fan announced the hiring of CMB was that they’d turn afternoons into a three-person show. That wasn’t a dynamic the station had utilized in year’s past. If you look at WFAN’s history, most of their shows have been hosted solo or by a two-man team. Having managed three-person shows before, I know it takes time to find the right flow and chemistry, and sometimes it flat out doesn’t work.

I don’t want to excuse CMB in this process either. The show has had times on the air when it’s been solid and many other times where it’s shown that it’s going thru growing pains. If the program packed a powerful punch, won the first ratings book and generated a ton of buzz, maybe things would’ve been different. But looking back, the odds were stacked against them from the second they were hired and while that may not be the best situation to walk into, they can’t say they didn’t know what they signed up for.

So that brings us back to Francesa.

If being away from the spotlight for less than six months left him this anxious to regain his former platform, what is he going to do when it goes away for good? Can Mike function without WFAN? How will he handle not being a part of the daily New York sports conversation?

As stressful and complex as this situation has been, if Mike does indeed return to WFAN in afternoons, it could have a lasting impact on the brand in a positive way. For the short term, you’d expect the ratings to improve, but perhaps even more important is getting Mike to become more of a leader and use his platform to help the station avoid a similar mess when he leaves in the future.

It’s no secret that Mike hasn’t been a warm and fuzzy teammate. He’s feuded with other station personalities, focused on his brand, and offered little public support for Carlin, a host who spent nine years producing his show. Maybe Mike didn’t believe Chris was worthy of the afternoon show real estate, and if he didn’t, that’s certainly his prerogative. But what should be addressed is how to avoid being in this same exact position in the next few years.

In that sense, Mike could do a lot of good if he wanted to. Rather than being Brett Favre and rejecting the idea of helping Aaron Rodgers, imagine what type of impact he could have and how he could be remembered if he used the next few years to bring others along. It’s probably unlikely, but what if he teamed up with Maggie or Carlin? Think about the lift that would provide their career, not to mention how their addition could provide an infusion to Mike’s show.

It ultimately boils down to this. If listeners and clients are happy and the ratings wins return everyone at WFAN will be happy. But ratings, business, and image issues aside, it’d benefit the group to think about today with their eye on tomorrow. The short-term stability will be fine, but if they don’t use their remaining time together to make sure the future is in good hands, the next time around could be a lot more catastrophic.

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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Barrett Blogs

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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