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Is It a Smart On-Air Decision to Ignore Anthem Issues?

Jason Barrett

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If you’ve followed the sports media business over the past two decades, chances are your familiar with Sean Salisbury. The former quarterback moved into the media when his playing days were done and rose to national prominence at ESPN, becoming one of their top NFL analysts in the 1990’s and 2000’s. I was fortunate to share an ESPN Radio studio with Sean earlier in my career, and we had a lot of fun, and have maintained a relationship ever since.

Currently Sean is heard in afternoons on SportsTalk 790 in Houston, and one of the things that has made him successful is his ability to deliver strong, candid, unapologetic opinions. He’s well rounded, does his homework, and isn’t afraid to offer a thought that might piss off a player, coach, fan, boss or ex-teammate.

I lay that out for you not as a paid member of the Sean Salisbury fan club but because it connects to this next story.

This past Monday, Sean took to Twitter and announced that going forward on his radio program in Houston, the national anthem controversy would not be a topic of conversation. Not for one minute or one second would sports fans be subjected to discussion on one of the most polarizing topics in sports media circles.

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Upon learning of Sean’s stance, I applauded his decision. I love the NFL, and enjoy hearing and watching hosts discuss and debate football teams, players, and topics with fans. Since I was a kid, Sunday’s during the fall have been special. I’ve tried to share my enthusiasm for the game with my son, and fortunately he’s embraced the sport even though our NY Giants have produced less than stellar results in recent years. Despite our disappointment with the team’s performance, our love for the game has never waned.

But as much as I love pro football, I can’t say that the media coverage dedicated to covering anthem protests and highlighting the outspoken views of players on situations outside the sport hasn’t had an affect on enjoying it. If a camera shows a player kneeling, some get angry over a distraction being created. If the camera doesn’t show it, noise is made over freedom of speech and expression being hindered. It’s become exhausting listening to both sides lose their minds over this never ending issue.

To make matters worse, the second a player takes to Twitter to express a personal view or takes a knee on the sideline before a game, it feels like it’s the only thing some media members care to discuss. It’s as if the game itself isn’t enough, and they’re looking for a way to introduce their personal political views into sports.

The reason most fans have watched the NFL for the past few decades is because they love to see two teams and their highly skilled players compete to be the best. The twists and turns that occur during the span of a sixty minute contest have long been the bait to keep us biting at the hook. It’s why the league has remained atop the television ratings year after year.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on though, the one constant you’ve been able to count on for the past few years is sports talk radio hosts reacting to the anthem issue the day after. In some cases, it’s a content focus the second it happens. But what about when a show takes a stand to eliminate it from its content as Salisbury is doing in Houston? Is that a bad decision? Is he making the right call, sensing that the audience is fatigued, and tired of hearing about it?

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Looking at it from afar, here are a few of my initial thoughts.

First, if you hate the amount of attention given to this issue, and it’s affected your interest in the NFL, you’re going to welcome this news. Knowing that you can turn on a show, and not hear a host spend time discussing who knelt on Sunday, and whether Colin Kaepernick belongs on a roster will be seen as a breath of fresh air. It tells fans with that point of view that they can tune in, and count on the show to focus on issues related to their local team, and developments which have or could affect the next game, without hearing about other negative issues taking place in the world.

Salisbury’s position also creates an immediate difference in strategy between his show and the other local options available in his timeslot. That doesn’t mean that the other two local sports radio programs in the market are going all-in on anthem issues, they just haven’t declared the subject off limits yet.

By taking this approach, Sean is energizing his fans, and hoping that more people in Houston share the same belief that eliminating anthem protest discussions on sports radio to focus on the Texans and/or any other key NFL issue is a better use of air time. It also creates an opportunity for the station’s sales department to target advertisers who want to be included in sports radio programming without feeling like there’s a possibility of their spots airing in between divisive commentaries and topics.

But now let’s flip the script, because there’s also danger associated with taking a hard line on specific subjects.

The one thing we know about sports is to always expect the unexpected. You can make a judgement in the moment that feels right, and is initially seen as a positive, but then something happens that you never accounted for. It’s in those moments when you’re forced to either modify your stance, or stay true to it, and miss out on talking about an issue that you never believed would happen, but is now the number one thing moving your audience.

As we sit here on August 15th it’s highly unlikely that we’d see Jerry Jones or Tom Brady take a knee during the national anthem. But what if they did? What if before a game we saw an entire team drop to a knee? Either of those issues would quickly become the biggest story in NFL circles, and inside your listener’s place of employment. Those fans who tune into your show would likely avoid you the next day if they wanted to hear more about the subject because you’ve already gone on record promising not to touch it.

Let’s explore another example.

Wasn’t Houston Texans owner Bob McNair outspoken during an NFL owners meeting last year where he proclaimed the inmates were running the asylum? Given what we’ve read and heard about McNair, it seems unlikely that even in a dire situation he’d approve the signing of Colin Kaepernick. But what if the Texans did the unthinkable? What do you do then?

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I realize some of these examples are unlikely to occur, but when you firmly adopt a position, you become married to it. Your intentions may be good, but by definitively promising not to explore certain subjects, you leave yourself little wiggle room when unexpected situations develop.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for sticking to your beliefs as a talent. It’s what many programmers ask of their hosts – pick a side, support your opinion with evidence, and be willing to defend it. There’s always a risk that it can blow up in your face at a later point in time, not to mention a lot more aggravation from dealing with negative feedback on social media. Sean though isn’t worried about that, and he’s committed himself to a position. Whether you agree or disagree with him, I commend him for standing up for what he believes in.

In our world, sports is the main course meal that we promise to serve our listeners. It’s what instantly makes us different from NewsTalk, Music, and other entertainment choices. The NFL’s players, in-game moments, results, contracts, off season moves, etc. have consistently proven to be attractive to our audiences, and that should be enough to stimulate our on-air talent. It’s no coincidence that when the NFL is on display during the fall, many sports radio brands enjoy a spike in listening and engagement.

This notion that sports aren’t interesting enough to excite people to listen for an extended period is not one I share. If a personality is invested in a sports subject, entertaining, informed, passionate, and able to provide sharp opinions that make the audience think, people will listen. Fans do still enjoy the games, and hearing hosts debate in-game decisions, individual contracts, comments made by players, and other sports related issues. If they didn’t, we’d have fewer sports stations, and less companies eager to spend billions to operate in the sports media space.

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It’s important to remember that just because you do this for a living, and get tired of traveling, dealing with difficult organizations and players, and watching games, doesn’t mean the audience feels the same. Media people have a tendency sometimes to think that the way they and their colleagues feel is how the everyday fan feels, and that’s not the case. Most fans watch games to enjoy them, not to identify a topic for the next show. That doesn’t mean that our jobs aren’t stressful or complicated, but if you can’t find love for talking about sports thru a microphone, and appreciate how it creates a connection for you with an audience, then something is wrong.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of hosts across the country who love sports, watch them intently, and look forward to sharing what they’ve observed with their listeners. Sean is clearly one of them. Different markets have their own complexities and unique personalities, but a smart on-air talent recognizes which local teams, players, and issues appeal to their audience. By designing their content around those key items, they give themselves the best chance to win.

There are always going to be segments of an audience that flock to a show which dives head first into social issues, and other polarizing topics. There’s another segment of the audience which is going to prefer to hear about sports, and escape those intense real life discussions. In Sean Salisbury’s case, he’s counting on the latter. Now only time will tell if that’s what the people of Houston want or if they prefer the alternative approach.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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