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Pay Attention to the ESports Revolution

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Sports radio is full of people with unique and interesting stories of how they got to where they are. One of those interesting stories in Jon Lunceford. He currently hosts Jox Primetime on JOX 94.5 in Birmingham. 

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Lunce was a professional gamer for a time before he launched his media career. That’s why we thought he was the perfect guy to write a little bit about the esports revolution. You may not pay attention to professional video gaming, but your kids certainly do. Is sports radio ready for the day when who Robert Kraft signs to play for the Patriots is less relevant in the pop culture landscape than who he signs to play for his esports team?

Professional gamers are everywhere. Sure, they have their own YouTube channels and Twitch streams, but Turner Sports is putting big events on television. Your tween sons are probably watching DisneyXD’s block of gaming-related shows every weeknight.

In his guest column for BSM, Jon Lunceford talks about his experience as a pro gamer, how the industry has caught the attention of some of the sports world’s most powerful names, and what sports radio can do to embrace esports in a way that isn’t jarring for our current listeners.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE ESPORTS REVOLUTION

It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City forward Paul George arrives at the newly built Banc of California Stadium.  Also in the building is Los Angeles Laker guard Josh Hart.  Could this be it?  Is Paul George taking his talents to the Lakers next season?

Don’t get your hopes up quite yet Laker fans.  George isn’t there to meet with Hart about potentially joining the franchise that some think he may end up with this season.  Instead, he is joining Pistons big man Andre Drummond, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried plus UFC fighters Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson along with more athletes and entertainers to play in the first ever Fortnite Celebrity Pro-AM at E3.

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If you’re in sports media, and you haven’t heard about esports, it’s time you started paying attention, because the athletes, coaches and executives you already cover are, and they are putting their money and brands into the vastly growing world of professional video gaming.

If you don’t know who Faker, Ninja or Daigo are – don’t worry, you’re not alone.  But these are some of the biggest stars in the world thanks to their success in games like League of Legends, Fortnite and Street Fighter.

I know what you’re thinking…no one cares about video games and the nerds that play them. We have more important things to discuss each day on our radio programs.  I get it.  I work in a market where it’s Alabama and Auburn football all the time, even now in the middle of the summer when there is nothing going on with either of those schools.

However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to follow the money.

That’s what I did.  As a college football player over a decade ago, I unfortunately got injured and had to stop playing.  However, I found a new competitive outlet – esports.  At the time, it wasn’t near as big as it is now, but I found a way to keep my competitive juices flowing while earning free trips to Germany, China, South Korea and all over the United States. I also won a little money while I was at it.  

While college football or basketball may be the only reason you ever want to talk about collegiate sports, it might be worth keeping an eye on esports.  Scholarships are being handed out around the nation for the top esports players out of high school.  High schools themselves are getting in on the action with the already established High School Esports League and now the National Federation of High Schools has partnered with PlayVS to bring esports to a number of member associations this year.  While esports is very worldwide now, this brings it to us on the local level.

After graduation, there are many professional leagues that not only pay full time salaries to compete, but the prize money is growing with each competition and into the millions for many games.

Esports revenue is growing at an incredible rate – 41.3% year-over-year according to Newzoo, an esports data gathering firm.  Esports is expected to make approximately $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020 with over 300 million people watching esports around the world.  ESPN, NBC and Turner have already signed deals to carry various events on their networks.

So what does this mean for sports radio?

First, let’s look at TV trends.  We have all watched ESPN struggle over the last few years.  Whether it’s due to their layoffs or politically leaning programming, the Sports Leader is going downhill.  The NFL is a league that as a whole has seen a decrease in viewership over the last couple of years for multiple reasons.  While most reports will point to people not tuning in due to the protests or bad match-ups in primetime, many young viewers are just finding interest in something else.

According to a survey from Limelight Networks, men 18-25 are spending more time online watching video gaming and esports events on average (1.95 hours) than sports (1.67 hours), news (1.45 hours) or other TV programming (1.88 hours).

If we look at Nielsen’s Total Audience Report from 2017, we see that live TV viewing has gone down 16 minutes since 2015 while viewing content on a smartphone or tablet has gone up 1 hour and 41 minutes in those two years.  Radio has been a constant, sitting at the same amount of time listened each day over the years.  However, it went from the second most used medium to the third most used behind smartphones.

It’s all about understanding where people are, and how these future generations will consume media differently than most adults in our core demographic of 25-54 do now.  There doesn’t have to be a seismic shift into all of the sudden paying attention to esports and making it a part of our daily sports radio lives.  However, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

One of the major stories in sports media has been the lack of viewers for ESPN’s new early lineup including Get Up! and High Noon.  Both shows are struggling to build their brands and get viewers this summer before football season starts back up.  While I am sitting here reading an article about their numbers being under 200,000 viewers at certain times, I am also watching a Twitch.tv stream of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who is currently doing nothing but sitting in the lobby on Fortnite in front of 150,000 viewers.  I flip over, and watch a regular season game from the League of Legends Championship Series that currently has 165,000 viewers.  

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While those numbers aren’t beating ESPN for standard daily viewership, there are multiple reasons why those esports numbers are more intriguing to a potential sponsor looking to spend their money in a more efficient way.  Not many organizations can show over 1 billion measurable views like the League of Legends Championship Series can, as they just hit that mark this summer.

It’s also curious when you look at the money and viewership involved with the biggest esports event each year, The International, and compare it to major events in traditional sports like The Masters.  Last year’s International saw five winners made $2.17 million each, more than this year’s Masters winner Patrick Reed made at $1.98 million. The International wasn’t quite as highly viewed as The Masters, but it is getting closer.  The International 2017 peaked at 10.9 million viewers while The Masters 2018 peaked at 16.8 million viewers.  The International 2018 is August 15-25 in Vancouver if you’re curious.

While I am on the younger side of sports radio, in my early 30’s and right in the middle of the Millennial generation, I understand that esports isn’t what I need to talk about daily on my radio show.  Most people out there would rather hear me discuss whether I think Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts should start for Alabama next season for the 50th time instead of talking about the Overwatch League playoffs.  But that doesn’t mean that no one wants to hear it.

Slowly we are starting to see gaming and esports products pop up.  Westwood One has Checkpoint Radio which stations can carry each week to discuss the latest in gaming.  Many radio personalities are starting their own podcasts to discuss topics like esports as well.

The best way we’ve found to discuss esports is by finding a way to tap into that small part of our listeners that does enjoy video games, whether they did as a child, or their children now play games.  When recapping weekend events a few weeks ago, I mentioned E3, and in doing so, was able to relate it to sports games we all have played at one point or another such as FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K and more.  It generated great discussion among listeners who wouldn’t have cared about discussing video games normally.

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The most important thing with esports is to try and understand it.  Is it a sport?  As someone who has played college football and competed in esports professionally, I always say no despite understanding every argument that says it is.  But it still can have a place in sports.  

Former ESPN President John Skipper said that esports was not a sport in his mind and that he was only interested in doing “real sports” on the network.  Nevermind that the World Series of Poker is one of ESPN’s biggest attractions and isn’t even remotely close to a sport, nor is the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I’m sure many of your kids are playing Fortnite non-stop, but the difference with video games is – there is always a next game.  Once the Fortnite fad dies down, there will be another game that your kids will be playing while professional athletes and celebrities jump on to promote it.  That allows esports to be so accessible to the general public and why watching it online has become so large.  

Of the eight personalities on our radio station, only one other person besides me has played sports on at least the collegiate level.  Yet video games are something that everyone can play no matter their age or experience.  It’s something that is easy to pick up and use to connect us with our friends, family, coworkers and even complete strangers.

It’s something that when we watch professionals play, they are literally playing the same game I am.  There is nothing different about the game I’m playing of League of Legends compared to the game that a professional is playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden, and yes. That is happening. 

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The accessibility is unparalleled and is why multiple professional team owners such as Robert Kraft, Stan Kroenke and more have bought into the Overwatch League or the League of Legends Championship Series.  It’s why across the world, we see celebrations in football, basketball, baseball and soccer that mimic dances found in Fortnite.  

It’s why Adam Silver and the NBA have bought in, creating the NBA 2K league.  Because while I may not ever be able to go out and play with LeBron James in the NBA, I can certainly pick up a copy of NBA 2K and play the same way the pros do.

When the entire sports world is buying into something, it might be worth it for sports radio to take a look at it.

Esports isn’t the norm right now, and it may take a long time before it is.  For now, we’ll wait and see if Paul George goes back to LA, but this time to play basketball instead of Fortnite.

Barrett Blogs

Julie Talbott to Receive The Jeff Smulyan Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists.”

Jason Barrett

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Each year at the BSM Summit, we take time to recognize some of the true difference makers in the sports media industry. It’s become a special part of the event, and it reminds everyone in the room of what’s possible if you do your job well and create impact.

Four awards in total are presented over the two-day event thanks to our friends at Premiere Networks. Each award has a different focus.

The Jeff Smulyan Award is presented to a radio industry executive who has led by example, taken risks, produced results, and made a significant difference for the sports radio business. The Mark Chernoff Award is given to sports radio’s top programmer. The Mike and the Mad Dog Award is presented to the top local sports radio show in America. And The Champions Award along with a financial contribution from BSM is given to an industry member who has used their platform to make a difference for others.

Since we began taking the Summit live in 2019, Mitch Rosen and Rick Radzik have been recognized as winners of the Mark Chernoff Award. Adam Schefter and the team of Keith Murphy and Andy Fales have been recipients of the Champions Award. And the top rated combination of Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti received the first ever Mike and the Mad Dog Award at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC.

Which brings us to the Jeff Smulyan Award.

A number of top notch executives have joined us to accept this honor over the years. It started in Los Angeles with Kraig Kitchin, continued in New York City with Dan Mason, and then Traug Keller took home the honor during our last show, which also took place in the big apple.

As we looked to 2023, the goal was to identify someone who’s been active in growing their company’s footprint across the sports radio industry. Equally important was someone who has the full confidence and trust of their people, a track record of delivering results, and has uncovered new business opportunities to lead their company forward.

After a brief conversation, Jeff and I knew exactly who the right person was.

It is my honor to announce and congratulate Julie Talbott, President of Premiere Networks on being named our recipient of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Julie will be present in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC to accept the honor at the 2023 BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award – especially with Jeff Smulyan’s name associated with it. I’ve been a fan of his throughout the years” shared Julie Talbott. “Premiere Networks and FOX Sports Radio are dedicated to delivering the best multiplatform sports audio content the industry has to offer, and this award truly recognizes the amazing efforts of our entire team, who I couldn’t be more proud of.  Thanks to Jason Barrett and BSM for this incredible honor.” 

“I have known Julie for many, many years and our industry doesn’t have a better ambassador than her” added Jeff Smulyan. “She has worked tirelessly to build Premiere into a remarkable enterprise and she has made legions of friends and admirers along the way. She is so deserving of this award and I couldn’t be happier that my friend, Julie Talbott is the winner of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Nothing makes me happier than to present it to her this March at USC!” 

“FOX Sports Radio’s growth under Julie’s watchful eye has been impressive, but when combined with Premiere’s performance and reach, and seizing opportunities in the digital space by launching strong brands such as The Volume, in partnership with Colin Cowherd, you start to see how she’s put her magical touch on the industry,” explained BSM President Jason Barrett. “The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists, and few have the respect, trust, and confidence of their people better than Julie Talbott.”

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Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media and Silver Tribe Media to Appear at the 2023 BSM Summit

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is five months away but the process to build sports media’s annual industry event continues. We’ve already announced 11 participants for our next show including Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome and Joy Taylor, but by the time this show takes place, attendees can expect to hear from 50-60 people as the agenda becomes action packed.

I do want to share one thing for those inquiring about speaking. Though I appreciate the interest, I’m selective in who we feature on stage because it’s important to keep the show fresh and full of actionable content. There are tons of smart people in this industry but I can’t accommodate everyone. I try to create sessions that benefit radio, digital and television executives, programmers, general managers, talent, agents, salespeople, production staff, etc. and to do that, we’ve got to cover a lot of different subjects over a two-day span. My goal is to send folks home with ideas and information to improve their brands, while providing a space for groups and individuals to meet since it opens the door to additional business. We’ve been fortunate to have good support and participation over our past four events, and I’m expecting this one to be even bigger and better.

Before I announce the latest additions to our speaker lineup, I want to thank Premiere Networks for their continued support of the Summit. They’ve been wonderful partners for years, and I appreciate them joining us to create the annual Awards ceremony. It is always a hit with attendees. More to come soon on this year’s honorees.

I’d also like to thank Harker Research for returning as a partner of the event, and MRN Radio for signing on as a new partner. Harker has sponsored all of our live events, and MRN has been in attendance for those shows. Having their support makes a difference. They join Premiere Networks, Stone Voiceovers and Core Image Studio as Summit partners. If you haven’t secured a sponsorship but would like to be, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com. She can update you on what we still have available.

As far as the content is concerned, I’m excited to announce a very cool session we’re adding which will include involvement from Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media, and Silver Tribe Media.

Everywhere you look these days, athletes are taking more control of their own messaging. They’re also more interested in content creation and are investing in people to help build today and tomorrow’s sports media empires. Whether it’s been Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or broadcasters such as Colin Cowherd, Bill Simmons, Dave Portnoy and Pat McAfee, the era of personality-led audio networks has arrived. This session will examine where we are, where we’re going, what’s been learned, and how it will affect change across traditional media moving forward.

Jack Rose of Silver Tribe Media will moderate the session. Joining him on stage will be Logan Swaim, Head of Content at The Volume. Richelle Markazene, Head of Audio for Omaha Productions, and Mike Davis, President and Executive Producer of Dirty Mo Media. Each of these folks have great insight and experience with leading personality-built brands, and Jack’s understanding of the media landscape through his work with Michael Klein’s company make him an ideal fit to guide the conversation. This is a session that traditional media folks are going to want to be present for.

If you haven’t purchased a ticket or booked your hotel room, don’t wait until the last minute. Everything you need to be in attendance for the Summit is available at BSMSummit.com. We are excited to host the show at The Founders Club at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. This is a great location and the biggest room we’ve run our conference in yet. I’m hoping to see you there.

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Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Scott Shapiro, Scott Sutherland and Evan Cohen To Participate at 2023 BSM Summit

“The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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Building an annual sports media conference is no day at the beach. It takes months to assemble and involves a lot of different steps. We analyze what matters to those attending, brainstorm ideas, create a sketch of the show to make sure there’s enough variety to satisfy different segments of the industry, pursue tons of speakers who have experience and an ability to add something unique or valuable on stage, and create sales decks and talk to existing and potential clients about supporting the show. If all of it doesn’t flow seamlessly, we run the risk of not delivering the type of event I expect us to.

Fortunately, over the years we’ve put together a pretty good conference. I’m proud of how it’s grown and that’s only possible because we’ve had great support across the industry. If you work in sports media and value learning, relationship building, and connecting with teammates, peers and competitors, this is an event you need to be at. It’s one that companies looking to reach sports broadcasting professionals should be involved in from an advertising standpoint too. Though there’s a lot of work still to be done, when we arrive in Los Angeles for the 2023 BSM Summit at USC’s Founders Club at the Galen Center on March 21-22, 2023, I’m expecting our team will deliver another top-notch performance.

To help us make that happen, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have participation from some of the industry’s most accomplished broadcasting professionals. Joining us on site for our awards ceremonies will be the man who started the sports talk format, Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. Also making the trip to the west coast will be former WFAN program director and CBS Radio/Entercom/Audacy sports format captain Mark Chernoff. Both men are honored annually with awards in their names. We’ll reveal the winners of both of those awards in the weeks and months ahead.

Additionally, I’m pleased to welcome back Scott Sutherland. Scott serves as the Executive Vice President of Regional Media Operations for Bonneville International Corporation, and is responsible for the strategic development and business growth of the company’s market leading sports brands in Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. Also returning to the Summit is FOX Sports Radio’s Vice President of Programming Scott Shapiro. Scott is charged with guiding FOX Sports Radio’s daily content strategy, and always enjoys lending his perspective on key issues facing talent, brands, and content leaders.

I realize many of you reading this who work in the industry are last minute planners. That’s ok, but I’d encourage you to reserve your hotel room in advance if you wish to stay close to the Galen Center. Our hotel partner is the USC Hotel, and you can learn more about the discounted rate we’ve established for attendees by clicking here.

The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals. The sports media industry is rapidly changing and the more we can learn from one another and take advantage of information and relationships, the better it’ll serve us moving forward. To attend this show, you must be involved in the media business whether it’s on-air, digital, behind the scenes, in management, sales, ad buying, talent representation or something else. We will also allow college students to attend the show in person if they are pursuing a future in sports broadcasting. Details on student tickets will be made available closer to the holidays.

In the meantime, if you want to make sure you have a seat in the room to enjoy the sessions and network with industry professionals, purchase your ticket(s) by visiting BSMSummit.com. I look forward to seeing you there.

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