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Volume 22 No. 15

Media

With designs on becoming a bigger player in sports, Entercom is shedding the CBS Sports Radio brand and embarking on a national sales and editorial strategy around its 25 all-sports radio stations under the Radio.com Sports banner.

The company, which bought CBS Radio 15 months ago, will continue to operate its stations locally. But it plans to use the Radio.com Sports brand across each of its sports radio stations, taking advantage of its national footprint as a way to push ad sales and programming initiatives onto these local channels and their digital platforms.

 

The initiative, led by Mike Dee, president of sports and a longtime sports executive, is intended to create a powerful national platform by threading together the company’s local expertise and personalities. Executives believe this move will create a national platform that will rival the country’s biggest radio company, iHeartRadio, and immediately make it an even bigger player in the sports marketplace.

 

“It really starts with the extraordinary platform that we have built,” said David Field, Entercom chairman, president and CEO. “Just as important is the extraordinary lineup of local personalities in great markets. It’s about local connections at a national scale. Nothing is more powerful than the engagement and passion of the local sports fan.”

 

By becoming more national in scope, Radio.com Sports believes it has a better story for advertisers. It has already signed Mercedes-Benz to a seven-figure deal as a launch partner for Radio.com Sports. Jimmy McCloud, executive vice president of sports strategy, said he is close to announcing two more sponsors.

 

Listeners will notice the change in several ways. The company’s popular local sports radio stations will be encouraged to use out-of-market guests that are part of the Radio.com Sports family. The group is in the process of hiring several “Sports Insiders” that it will push its stations to use regularly. It already has hired The Athletic’s Ross Tucker for NFL-related appearances and former Yankees manager Joe Girardi for MLB-related ones. The goal is to create national, authoritative voices on sports that it can use at the local level.

 

“We want 50 percent of our guests to be Radio.com ‘Sports Insiders,’ which we’re going to build from the inside out,” Dee said. “We’ve never had a national schedule for guests, so this enables us to go out and sell against them.”

 

Company executives had been growing frustrated with the number of appearances its stations give to outside reporters and their outlets. Dee specifically referenced The Athletic, whose writers frequently appear on his stations’ shows to promote stories, even as The Athletic is building an audio business that could be seen as competitive.

 

Radio.com also plans to use its hosts as guests on other shows in different markets. For example, a host of a show on KRLD in Dallas should be a guest on Mike Francesa’s show on WFAN in New York before the Cowboys-Giants game, Dee said.

 

Each of the stations also plans to roll out Radio.com breaking news alerts, which will be sponsored.

 

“Very few of our stations had a breaking news mnemonic — a sound and a specific program and a sponsor,” Dee said. “Now we’ll have Radio.com Sports Breaking News, whether it’s a local story or a national story … It really creates new inventory and new opportunities for advertisers.”

 

But don’t expect Radio.com Sports to make its stations be national, especially when the bulk of advertising revenue comes from local sources.

 

“We are not extracting ourselves from being the local sports authority,” Dee said. “We’re building on that … The other part of it was to really start to manage our content differently. We have an enormous amount of content, you know, most of the leading sports talk shows in every market where we do business are ours. But with the example I just gave you, there really hasn’t been a 40,000-foot view to say who goes on our air, how are they identified.”

CBS ad sales chief Jo Ann Ross took the stage at her network’s Super Bowl party on Feb. 2 in Atlanta to introduce the evening’s musical act to a roomful of clients and guests.

 

Ross brought Meghan Trainor on stage with an intro about how the pop star, through her songs, empowers women.

 

The same could be said for CBS Sports, which descended on Atlanta with a group that included nearly two dozen women in senior positions — on-air, behind the camera and in the executive suite — and offers an example of the significant influence women have in the management of CBS Sports.

 

The diversity of CBS Sports’ work force in Atlanta runs counter to the image of the NFL as an old boys club. It also could be seen as a statement for a network that dealt with a high-profile sexual harassment scandal last year that led to Leslie Moonves’ resignation as network president.

 

For CBS Sports executives, it’s not just about the number of women who traveled to Atlanta. It’s about the senior positions they have.

 

Half of CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus’ senior management team are women: Executive Vice President of Operations and Engineering Patty Power; Executive Vice President of Marketing Kelly Dunne; Senior Vice President of Communications Jen Sabatelle; Senior Vice President of Human Resources Bryn Berglund; and Vice President of Business Affairs Deanna O’Toole.

 

“We believe that CBS Sports is a meritocracy; people get promoted based on performance,” McManus said. “Each person on my senior management team is there because they are the absolute best at what they do. Their performances speak for themselves.”

 

Here are some of the nearly two dozen women in senior positions who played key roles for CBS Sports during the Super Bowl.
Photo: CBS Sports

McManus pointed to O’Toole as an example. She was a manager of business affairs when McManus started at CBS in 1996. McManus said that every time he promoted O’Toole, she stepped up to the challenge to the point where she is the one tasked with reviewing all Super Bowl advertisements before they run.

 

“We started out having her do small deals, then we had her do bigger and bigger deals,” McManus said.

 

It is the same story with Power, who worked her way from CSTV to running the division’s operations and engineering department. In Atlanta, Power was responsible for setting up the entire technical infrastructure for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network’s entire operation and setup.

 

“Every time I gave her a new role, she did a first-rate job,” McManus said. “She was the logical person to replace Ken Aagaard overseeing operations three years ago.”

 

The number of women in senior positions at CBS Sports is not due to quotas or a written policy. It happens organically. 

 

“It’s a huge source of pride for all of us at CBS Sports,” CBS Sports President David Berson said. “These women are in these roles because they earned it and are the best people for the job.”


John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

Thomas signals a first down as she tapes her part in the star-packed commercial.
Photo: NFL

Sarah Thomas, who this season became the first full-time female referee to work the playoffs, was standing in the back of NFL COO Maryann Turcke’s suite as the fantastic “NFL 100” commercial played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the Super Bowl.

Thomas had not seen the spot, but she knew she would be in it, as did guests in the suite who included retired Gen. Lori Robinson, who commanded NORAD from 2016 to 2018, and Royal Bank of Canada Chair Katie Taylor.

The suite stayed quiet — almost tense — until near the end of the two-minute commercial, which is when Thomas made an appearance signaling a first down. The suite’s guests exploded in celebration, hugging and congratulating the trail-blazing woman. The referee’s phone blew up with texts and calls.

Martha Stewart, who was in the neighboring suite, leaned over and asked who Thomas was and why everyone was congratulating her.

“It was super emotional,” Turcke said. “This is an important part of the evolution of our game as we embrace our female fans and other diverse fans.”

Turcke had invited several prominent women to share her suite. In addition to Robinson and Taylor, U.S. hockey players Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan also were in the suite.

Turcke credited her NFL group for coming up with ideas about who to include in the commercial, which also included Beth Mowins, who has called play-by-play for NFL games on ESPN and CBS, and Sam Gordon, the Utah teenage girl who plays high school football.

“[NFL CMO] Tim Ellis is cognizant of engaging diverse sets of fans,” Turcke said. “We know that when people play the game or are involved with the game at a young age, they are way more likely to become avid fans and to engage in a much sharper and more valuable way. For me, I see the upside with young girls, whether it’s flag or tackle. We really wanted to put it out there that this is something that everybody can play.”

Turcke said this is the type of innovative thinking that has helped the NFL thrive over the past 100 years.

“Here’s a peek into the future,” she said. “We’re embracing inclusivity and just taking that next step, which is why you saw Sarah Thomas and Sam Gordon and Beth Mowins in that spot.”

Boston led the way in local ratings while many folks in New Orleans turned the dial.
Photo: Getty Images

After a season of offensive fireworks led to increased television ratings across all of the NFL’s TV networks, a defensive struggle in this year’s Super Bowl caused CBS’s audience to fall under 100 million — the first time in a decade that the Super Bowl failed to hit the 100 million viewer mark.

 

While the end total of 98.2 million viewers was disappointing for CBS executives, the viewer figure will not affect CBS’s ad sales revenue. Networks do not offer advertisers any ratings guarantees for the Super Bowl, so CBS will not have to write any make-goods for the ads, which brought in more than $5 million per 30-second spot.

 

Network executives can point to the presence of the Los Angeles Rams as the main reason why the television numbers were down in this game. The team moved to L.A. in 2016 and still hasn’t developed a rabid fan base. During the week before the Super Bowl, Patriots fans seemed to outnumber Rams fans on the streets of Atlanta by a 10-to-1 margin.

 

In Los Angeles, the game posted a 44.6 rating, which isn’t so bad. But it is 21 percent below the local Super Bowl rating for the NFC champion in last year’s Super Bowl. The Eagles-Patriots game scored a 56.2 rating in Philadelphia.

 

The New Orleans rating was eye-popping. Usually a reliable market for NFL ratings, Saints fans vowed to boycott the Super Bowl and many did, producing a 51 percent drop from last year’s rating.

First Look podcast, with Super Bowl LIII and NFL offseason discussion at the 8:24 mark:

You can also download the First Look transcript.

The Bears-Packers rivalry dates back to 1921. Starting the year with the 199th matchup in their history would help the league start its 100th season celebration in style.
Photo: Getty Images

The NFL is leaning toward having the Bears host the Packers for next season’s opening kickoff game on Thursday, Sept. 5, according to multiple sources. The move would mark the first time since 2006 that the Super Bowl champion will not appear in the league’s opening game. The newly crowned Patriots likely will host the season’s first “Sunday Night Football” game instead, on Sept. 8.

 

The NFL is leaning toward having Chicago host the season’s first game as part of its 100th season celebration, allowing it to showcase the league’s oldest rivalry. The Bears and Packers first played in 1921 and have faced each other 198 times.

 

NBC will carry the Thursday night game, which, like other NFL season openers, will feature entertainment outside Soldier Field.

 

The Ravens are the only other Super Bowl champion since 2006 that did not host the league’s opening game the following season. In 2013, the NFL had Baltimore open the season in Denver because of a scheduling conflict with the neighboring Orioles, who also were playing that night.

 

New England’s most likely opponents for the opening “Sunday Night Football” game are the Browns, Chiefs, Giants or Steelers, each of which is on the Patriots’ 2019 schedule. My guess is that the NFL picks the Giants over the Steelers because the NFC’s schedule is much stronger than the AFC’s this year, and the league will want to save AFC games for later in the season. The NFL seems likely to want to schedule the high-profile Patriots-Chiefs game for later in the season. While the Browns and their quarterback Baker Mayfield may be exciting, the NFL could decide that the franchise has not earned such a high-profile scheduling position.

 

The NFL is not yet close to finalizing its schedule, which typically gets released in April. But during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, network executives from CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC pitched Howard Katz, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting, and Hans Schroeder, COO of NFL Media, on the types of games they want.

 

Some of the network requests are the same every year. Every network wants reliable ratings performers like the Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and Steelers on its schedule. For this upcoming season, the networks also showed a lot of interest in the Chiefs, Bears and Rams.

 

The one common theme that ran through all these meetings dealt with the strength of the NFC pool of games for the 2019 season. One executive said he had never seen such disparity between the ratings potential for the NFC and AFC games.

 

This season, the NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington) plays the NFC North (Bears, Packers, Vikings, Detroit), which will lead to big ratings. Plus, the interconference games put many of the best games in the NFC pool (Dallas at New England; Green Bay at Kansas City; L.A. Rams at Pittsburgh), executives said.

 

Because of that disparity, look for the NFL to crossflex more high-quality NFC games to CBS than it has in the past, including at least one Cowboys game. My bet is that CBS picks up the Cowboys-Packers game, but it could be the Cowboys-Saints.

 

Also look for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” to wind up with a healthy dose of games from the NFC pool.

 

Fox came to its meeting with nine executives, led by Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks. Its main message was that, like last season, it wants to seed “Thursday Night Football” with high-quality games that normally would anchor its Sunday afternoon schedule. In fact, Fox wants to be even more aggressive with its “Thursday Night Football” schedule this season.

 

CBS took four executives into its scheduling meeting, led by Chairman Sean McManus and President David Berson. CBS’s main message was that it wanted to keep as many good AFC games as it can.

 

NBC’s delegation was led by Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News and NBC Sports executive producer Fred Gaudelli. As the producer of television’s top-rated prime-time show — “Sunday Night Football” — for a record eight consecutive seasons, NBC pushed for the best matchups available.

 

Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling, led ESPN’s charge, requesting specific matchups that the network more easily could tie into the NFL’s 100th season celebration.

 

One broadcasting switch to expect this season will occur in London, where the NFL plans to stage four games. Expect NFL Network exclusively to carry the two London games that start at 9:30 a.m. ET. In the past, NFL Network had only carried one of those games exclusively. Of the two 1 p.m. ET kickoffs in London, look for CBS to carry one and Fox to carry the other.

 

It will be interesting to see who carries the Chiefs-Chargers game from Mexico City. ESPN has carried the Mexico City games in the past and is a likely candidate for this one. But ESPN has designs on another Chiefs game, and it’s not likely that the NFL will put two Kansas City games on the “Monday Night Football” schedule. CBS and NBC are more remote possibilities to carry it.

 

The Thanksgiving afternoon games likely will feature the Bears and Lions on Fox and the Dolphins and Cowboys on CBS.