Thu. Sep 20th, 2018

Observations of the BSM 2017 Top 20

Six days of BSM 2017 Top 20 lists are in the books and I’m thrilled to have it in my rear view mirror. The interest in this series continues to outperform my expectations and for that I’m extremely grateful, but, the process takes nearly three months to complete and by the time it’s over, I’m mentally exhausted and in need of a break. This year I’ve set aside three days for a quick getaway to Miami but as soon as I return, it’s on to the next two projects, Season 3 of the Barrett Sports Media Podcast, and finalizing plans for the Barrett Sports Media Programming Summit in Chicago in March.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t equal to digging ditches. It’s a labor of love, and I appreciate that sports radio listeners get invested in the lists and use the information to learn more about some of our format’s great shows and stations in other cities. I’m beyond thankful to each industry member who retweets my work or shares their own posts on social media or an internal email to colleagues expressing their gratitude for the recognition. It’s a great feeling when I see a wife post something about her husband or a co-worker share something about a teammate or boss, appreciating them for their hard work and accomplishments.

I spent a decade programming a few successful sports stations, working with some incredible people, and I wish this type of series existed when I was managing brands. I often wondered if my efforts and contributions were noticed by my peers or not. Unfortunately, the only opportunities to be recognized came in the form of on-air shows earning exposure on lists which were often influenced by advertising dollars, partnerships and professional relationships. Although that frustrated my format friends, it’s all we had, which was why I decided to do something about it when I went into business for myself.

I don’t claim this process is perfect or better than anyone else’s, but the BSM platform has gained credibility. That’s helped in gaining the trust and respect of forty seven radio executives from different cities and companies. Without their help this project would be incomplete. The only thing I’ll take credit for is being smart enough to release the six day series during a time when the majority of the sports media industry broadcasts live from the Super Bowl host city. That puts peers, friends and competitors in the same space, which leads to additional awareness and chatter about the lists.

Throughout my time in the business, I’ve heard people frequently mention at radio conferences that the radio business needs to do a better job of telling its story, highlighting its people and successes, and lending their support to those who recognize the good work they’re doing. It sounds like great advice, but unfortunately not many follow thru on it.

I can proudly say though that I do. There is no promotional series for the sports talk format more extensive than the BSM Top 20.

Over the span of six days, 140 shows, 40 stations and 40 programmers in the sports radio format are recognized for their work. That information makes Market Managers look good to their bosses. It becomes information passed along by salespeople to their clients. It’s content which gets pushed thru a brand’s social media channels and airwaves to activate their listeners. More importantly though, it gives each person on the list a reason to feel good about their work and to know that what they do is appreciated and valued by their employer and those who pay attention up above.

Is the process perfect? No. I’m not sure how it could be. An East Coast executive will probably value a show or station in their city or region higher than they do a West Coast brand and vice versa. A person working at Entercom or iHeart will likely vote for people they know, respect and care about instead of a competitor. Some individuals will also place shows or people higher based on ratings or reputation rather than what comes thru the speakers.

Because of all of those factors, I stress that the results are a representation of the collective opinions of industry executives and they’re subjective. In organizing it, I go thru each company and region to try and make sure there’s good balance. I’ll even switch up a few panel members each year to keep it fresh.

What I’ve learned since starting this is that there are a lot of smart and informed executives who take it seriously. There are also some who don’t know the format as well as they should. BSM doesn’t vote because it would be unfair to clients and competitors. As I’ve stated before, it doesn’t make sense to ask forty seven executives to contribute only to disregard their feedback and play favorites.

What I will offer my opinion on though are some of the results that stood out from this year’s Top 20.

10 OBSERVATIONS:

  • Kirk and Callahan of WEEI in Boston were named Major Market sports radio morning show, the only local Major Market award not won by WFAN or one of their shows. K&C had a tremendous 2017 and deserved the award, but I was surprised they won because The Fan had a stranglehold on nearly every category and voters tend to have strong opinions of WEEI and its shows. What the results told me, industry leaders have taken notice of what’s been happening in Boston sports radio circles.
  • I was stunned to see Boomer Esiason finish 7th in the Major Market morning show category considering that he won the award the past 2 years with Craig Carton. I understand if voters felt Carton’s exit weakened or stained WFAN for a brief period, but the morning show rated 1st in the fall with Men 25-54 in mornings without Carton. I’m not sure what else Esiason could have done.
  • Sticking with WFAN, Mike Francesa became the first and only three time winner, taking home the honor of 2017 Major Market Afternoon Show. Since the New York Sports Pope is no longer on the air, next year’s results figure to be very different. That puts pressure on Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray but that shouldn’t phase them because they’ve dealt with intense scrutiny since accepting the job. On the other hand, every Major Market afternoon show now has an opening. It’ll be interesting to see who breaks thru in the next 12 months.
  • Waddle & Silvy and The Michael Kay Show exceeded expectations in the voting which was a pleasant surprise. Usually the ESPN local shows don’t generate as much traction as others. Not only do both programs deserve that respect because of their on-air execution, but their ratings, reputation and visibility are being noticed too. That’s good news for all involved.
  • I was surprised to see Felger & Mazz dip to 4th considering they remain the dominant duo in afternoons in Boston. Did a voter or two lower their opinion of the show based on Felger’s comments about Roy Halladay? That’s all I can come up with because they continued to deliver exceptional results.
  • Barstool Radio debuted on the National Shows list which shows that industry folks are curious, interested and expecting bigger things from the show/brand. With a full channel dedicated to Barstool’s content, I don’t think it’s a question if the brand will appear on the National list in the future. I think the question is, how many of their shows earn spots down the line?
  • Colin Cowherd’s reign atop the National’s list was overtaken by Dan Patrick. Given how much respect exists for Colin in executive circles I was surprised by that. It shows that industry folks place equal value on DP’s program and appreciate its consistency. In analyzing the voting, Dan and Colin are on a much higher level than the rest of the national pack.
  • For one reason or another, 790 The Ticket in Miami, and sports stations in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Houston seem to get overlooked a lot when compared to other Major Market brands. It’s likely because they don’t rate as high as other cities but there are a few quality shows on those stations which I think deserve a closer look.
  • I would’ve included 92.9 The Game in that previous paragraph but the Atlanta sports station finally broke thru in the Major Market Afternoon and Station categories. Is that a sign of bigger things to come for the brand or are they a one-hit wonder? Next year’s results will tell us, but at least now they’re on the radar.
  • It was neat to see The Deener Show, Erik Ainge, Bo Mattingly, The Huge Show, Garcia & Bailey, Bruce Hooley, Decamara & Ritchie, Dukes & Bell and Hochman & Crowder all debut on the lists. The same was true for PD’s Jeremiah Crowe, Joe Zarbano, Armen Williams, Dan Zampillo, Jeff Rickard, Tony DiGiacomo and Drew Anderssen. Good job by the panel voting for a few new faces who were deserving.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

The web traffic this year surpassed the previous two, confirming that interest in the Top 20 remains strong. Our panel was excellent, and I thought the winners and results provided many correct calls. Maybe a few things here or there deserved better or worse placement but overall it was a good reflection of the format’s best.

In the next few months I’ll examine everything from the schedule of each category release, to the images (I thought this year’s graphics were the best ones yet, do you agree or disagree?), to the executive panel members, to the press releases and emails that promote each list. Should this be done in 5 days or 6? Would it be better if it was rolled out in one day? Does it make more sense to do it online or at a live event? Is it worth adding a title sponsor to the series? These are questions I ask myself each year as I strive to make it better.

What I don’t spend much time worrying about are the handful of listeners who complain about stations in their markets deserving a top spot when the brand they’re trying to hype up barely rates. Sorry guys, industry executives pay attention to results. I appreciate the passion but yearly performance counts in this process.

I also don’t waste a lot of energy worrying about folks who complain about my clients earning favoritism or being placed behind their competitors. If you want the sports format to be fairly presented, you have to involve the right people, add up their feedback, and let the collective results speak for themselves. As I told an executive last week who disliked the winner of one category, you contributed to the process along with your peers. If you want to blame someone, blame them or yourself.

I do have one pet peeve. There are some people who like to add up the number of female and black hosts on the lists and create some type of racial or gender war. I’ve stated before that the format needs to do a much better job hiring people from different backgrounds. I’ve done the research and presented it. But, that is a separate issue. To not recognize hosts or PD’s who are doing great work for quality brands is discounting their contributions to the industry too. In my opinion, that doesn’t solve the problem.

As far as talk show hosts are concerned, I love competitive people and understand why they feel they deserve a spot on the list. If it didn’t happen though, rather than getting frustrated, ask yourself, why am I not on there? Is it ratings related? Is it because the market or brand I’m part of flies below the radar? Am I working for the second station in a city with a well known and respected competitor? Are the other 20 options simply better at what they do? Or are executives not as big of a fan of my work as I might have thought they were?

Ratings, revenue, reputation and relevance are all part of your success story. If you possess all four, you may have a legitimate gripe. If not, get to work on them because what you contribute today and tomorrow could impact where you stand next year. Congratulations to all who earned a spot on the 2017 BSM Top 20. Until next year, thanks for checking out the lists and supporting BSM.

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