Spreading Good Karma in sports
This past summer, Good Karma Brands bought two radio stations in Milwaukee — WKTI, a country music station, and WTMJ, which has held the Green Bay Packers’ radio rights since 1929.
For Good Karma, there was a sort of back-to-the-future quality to the deal. Craig Karmazin and a group of friends started the company in 1997 with the purchase of two radio stations in tiny Beaver Dam, Wis. Since then, Karmazin has expanded the company well beyond just radio, in which it now owns 11 stations around the country.
In 2011, Good Karma started buying homes around Lambeau Field to set up premium hospitality areas for Packers games — or what became The Tundra Trio. Around the same time, Good Karma launched the Wisconsin Sports Awards. A couple of years later, it helped launch the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl with ESPN.
Good Karma Brands
No. of Employees: 205
What they do: Good Karma Brands is a sports marketing and broadcast company specializing in customized solutions for local marketers throughout the country.
■ Milwaukee: WAUK (540 AM ESPN), WKTI (94.5 FM ESPN), WTMJ (620 AM)
■ Cleveland: WKNR (850 AM ESPN), WWGK (1540 AM ESPN)
■ West Palm Beach, Fla.: WUUB (106.3 FM ESPN), WEFL (760 AM ESPN Deportes)
■ Madison, Wis.: WTLX (100.5 FM ESPN), WTTN (1580 AM ESPN Deportes)
■ Beaver Dam, Wis.: WBEV (1430 AM), WXRO (95.3 FM)
■ The Tundra Trio
■ Wisconsin Sports Awards
■ Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
Good Karma’s business still is predicated on radio — more than half of the company’s revenue comes from audio, Karmazin said. “It’s where we’ve invested and where we see the ability to truly sell product and truly help brands develop in ways that are difficult to gain that same return on investment across other forms of media,” he said.
But during an interview last month, Karmazin seemed most energized by a “Monday Night Football” game the Packers hosted against the 49ers in October that he believes best showcases everything his company has to offer.
In addition to the corporate hospitality around The Tundra Trio, ESPN set up its “Monday Night Countdown” set at one of the homes owned by Good Karma and Karmazin entertained new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro for dinner before the game. Karmazin credits his close relationship with ESPN for helping Good Karma grow, citing partnerships around the Boca Raton Bowl and the ESPN-branded radio stations the company operates.
“The assets we have may seem kind of random with the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl game, the Wisconsin Sports Awards, my investment in the Milwaukee Bucks and our different ESPN radio and digital relationships,” said Karmazin, a minority owner of the Bucks. “But it’s allowed us to really develop a meaningful relationship with ESPN across so many different departments.”
While Good Karma has expanded beyond being a radio station operator, it’s clear that Karmazin has radio in his blood. His father, Mel, is a lion of the business, co-founding Infinity Broadcasting and working as CEO of Sirius Radio for eight years. In college, the younger Karmazin and some friends talked about creating an FM sports talk station in Madison, Wis., and syndicating Howard Stern for its morning show.
“I spent my second semester of college figuring out how I could actually make that happen,” he said.
Karmazin, though, couldn’t afford a station in Madison. Thanks to a $3.5 million loan, he was able to buy one in nearby Beaver Dam in 1997, followed by two other purchases. By August 1998, Karmazin had Stern’s show on one of those stations.
Good Karma had initial success as a small-market radio operator, but by 2002 Karmazin worried that terrestrial radio was going to lose listeners to satellite radio. He decided the best way to grow would be to align with ESPN.
“We didn’t want to be in the music business, we wanted to be in the sports business,” he said. “And we thought if we could combine best-in-class local activation with the ESPN brand, that because of the live and local and interactive nature of sports, that we would be less impacted by satellite internet radio, all the different trends that were coming to media.”
In 2003, Good Karma launched its first standalone ESPN market in West Palm Beach, Fla. In 2004, it launched in Milwaukee, and two years later it launched in Cleveland. By 2008, Good Karma launched in Madison.
Craig Karamzin: Founder and CEO
Steve Politziner: President
“That was really a big change in concept for us as a company,” Karmazin said. “We did not really view ourselves as radio operators, but viewed ourselves as sports marketers who happen to own radio stations.”
The idea that Good Karma was more than just a radio station operator hit Karmazin early. He launched his first stations when the Packers were coming off a Super Bowl and Wisconsin was playing in the Rose Bowl.
“Everything we were doing from day one was truly sports marketing, whether it was the tailgate parties that we would execute, the digital promotions that we were doing all the way back in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” he said. “We love being in the local space and believe that there’s going to be a huge amount of growth opportunity for us there. Because as everyone else consolidates and looks at things nationally, we still are old school and believe in local relationships and actually getting local results and selling products for the partners we’re working with.”