Finale: Part 5 – What is the future of sports media in Baltimore?

February 10, 2010 | Nestor Aparicio

“I will never, EVER “text” with you!” I screamed into my cell phone to my beloved son, Barry, during the summer of 2006 when he filled up my text inbox with messages that I had no idea how to access. “If you don’t call me on the phone, you won’t find me!”

What’s that axiom? “It’s what you learn after you know everything that really counts!”

Yet again, more words wasted and crow swallowed. It was just another humbling, woefully wrong prediction for my own actions and a future gone awry as I continue to grow in years and wisdom in my 40’s.

If there’s one pearl of wisdom I’ve learned the hard way it’s this: the learning NEVER stops and the world never stops changing. I’ve committed myself to be a student of life and it’s what gets me out of bed and keeps me alive and vibrant during these tough times.

The entrepreneur in me just got back from eight days in Fort Lauderdale at the Super Bowl watching all of the “big boys” do what they do – television, radio, newspapers, web entities, etc. It’s gone from old days of “Radio Row” to a hodgepodge of different media resources at the Media Center in 2010. And the national media outlets are all scrambling, trying to figure out how to serve a sports fan base that is now fractured via age and technological savvy and dinosaur systems and old-world employees and employers who have no idea how to make this emerging world of new media work to their advantage.

In one corner the NFL owns all of the Sirius/XM programming and the centerpiece of the NFL Network set and in the other corner Motorola is dropping big bucks to buy sponsorship of a “beer-less” media hospitality area and underwriting the “OCNN” – the Ocho Cinco News Network, featuring Chad himself and friends like Ray Rice and Chris Cooley.

The world of sports media has changed forever and the Super Bowl continued to prove what I already know: the web will rule the new world.

If you want to read a sensational book on this brave new world, pick up Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Crush It” and thank me later. Most of what I would predict for the future would be contained in his 132-page “must read.”

I delayed this blog for a few days – mainly because of the weather, flight issues and my illness but also because I wanted to take in the full Fort Lauderdale week and observe what I was seeing at the Super Bowl before I wrote the “finale” to my five-part missive here on the “state” of the media – and not just local sports media, but media in general.

There’s no bigger event than that monstrous marvel they put on in Miami on Sunday night, and virtually everything there from a media standpoint is “cutting edge” when it comes to the marketing and delivery of news, information and hype for the biggest game of them all. And while MLB and the NBA continue to shrink in our culture and the NHL still can’t grow its sport, the NFL continues to soar to heights so high that the only thing that’ll hold it back is how greedy all of the parties will get in how to divide up so much money, interest, love and passion. To the world of SaatchiKevin (another of my web resource/genius links), it’s a “Lovemark” – the most rare of brand breeds.

If you believe the TV ratings, Sunday’s game was watched by more people than any event in the history of the American universe. (By the way, I don’t necessarily believe the previous statement – as I’ve written this week — but who am I to argue and what difference does it make? A LOT of people watched the game on Sunday! Certainly more than anything else our culture offers, the Super Bowl is “THE” American event! A lot of marketing was done. And those commercials are a couple of million bucks a piece for a reason…)

I’ve made a lot of strong statements over the last week. Many have been backed up with new sciences of measurement, technology, your mobile device and 26 years of studying how all of this sports media stuff works. It’s been my passion for as long as I can remember.

But like every other “expert” in the marketplace, we’re all guessing what this thing is going to look like in three-to-five years.

I know where it’s NOT going. And that’s back to three TV stations, a few powerful, dominant radio stations (FM or AM) and it certainly will have nothing to do with printing the news today and delivering it tomorrow on a paper product.

The future is in your pocket. It’s in your phone and it will evolve – much more quickly than any of us can imagine – from there.

Virtual keyboards. Virtual porn. Virtual sports. Live HD broadcasts of sporting events where you pick your seat. Since the purchase of my Droid back in November, I’ve had less use for my laptop every single day. The “third screen” as they call it in the industry is exploding and it’ll never regress. It makes life too easy, too accessible. Just having something as trivial as Google maps on my phone has given me hours of my life back to use building WNST.net.

Honestly, just think about how far it has evolved in the last 12 months with the advances of social media like Facebook and Twitter? Or the last three years, with the ability to now stream most anything to a mobile device? Or the last five years, when you had never seen HD TV before? Or the last 10 years, where websites now break news all day and everything happens in “real” time?

I’ve now been a consumer of the media for about 38 years and a producer of sports media-related content in Baltimore for 26 years.

I’m closer to your uncle’s age than your son or daughter. Now, think about how much that “old guy” uncle of yours who has eschewed modern media is missing by not texting, not using a computer, getting online or using email. Everybody has someone “older” in their life whom hasn’t caught on to this “media” and “mobile” thing yet, right?

I had employees at my company as recently as six months ago still using fax machines to relay information. Some people in my world still don’t text. Some people don’t do social media. Some people still wait for the 11 o’clock news. Or ‘til the next morning to pick up a newspaper at the Royal Farms on the corner. And some people, like me, are on Facebook and Twitter via the palm of their hands 24 hours a day.

It’s a very tangled web with so many ways to reach people and ways of giving them the information where they want it but the great equalizer will be the web. Because — eventually – the dinosaurs like newspapers, TV and radio will not roam the earth and the simplicity, connectedness and exchange of information via mobile devices will flatten the earth for companies like WNST.net.

A Haiti-sized earthquake, a Hurricane Katrina-style whirlwind has moved into the sphere of media and has forever altered the way we get information about virtually anything in the world. The web has replaced all of the libraries of the world and amassed their information, all of the record stores and malls in the world and put their goods on sale at a stroke and allowed everyone to communicate freely in real time. If you’re not using Skype, I pray for you…

This five-part series of many words, concepts, facts, accusations and observations was written to make you – the eventual user of all of this stuff and consumer of this information – think about the future and how you consume your local sports media.

We’ve also provided a detailed WNST “State of Baltimore Sports Media” survey to accompany the blogs so that you could give us honest feedback so that we can make WNST.net better. I sincerely hope you fill it out and be as honest as you feel you should be.

We want to be the best. I won’t apologize for that. I won’t accept anything less than that from myself, or any of our employees or partners at WNST.net.

I asked a lot of specific questions in the survey. But when it comes to the future, the best questions are the ones that can’t be answered. Most of this stuff has no “set” answer only a rearview mirror of the way things “used to be.” Kind of like life itself. We’re never going backwards on the technology and the past does not equal the future.

The NFL doesn’t know where this new world of media is going. Drew and I chatted with Sean McManus – a Baltimorean, son of Jim McKay and the current President of CBS News and Sports — and he has no real idea where this world of new media is going.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMAT0VY1Jq0[/youtube]

I go to seminars in New York all of the time with the biggest and brightest in world of media and they’re as befuddled as the rest of us. And the rank and rile sportswriters and broadcasters that I’ve spoken with over the past three years are a mess. I reaffirmed that last week when I quizzed dozens of people about our industry only to get a myriad of bizarre observations and old-way-of-thinking sadness. Most are just beginning the first steps to understanding how the new world of measurement will affect them and their personal brands.

I just know it’s changing more rapidly than anyone imagined and I see it and experience it every day. I use it all – web apps, email, text, Facebook, Twitter, social media, Droid, Four Square, etc. – I and think it’s cool and so does everyone else I interact with online.

For the younger generation, it’s their way of life!

To anyone over 30, we’ll will never be able to relate in the same way because the ingrained simplicity for the next generation will cause a synapse in all sorts of ways – kinda like when my son was texting me five years ago and I had no idea how to retrieve the messages on my phone let alone respond on my 12-digit keypad. Every day more of that goes on in the world of emerging technology. And every day it’s a full time job to keep up with it all. Personally, I rely on Mashable, but you can pick a myriad of different ways to get this social media world brought to you.

And anyone who calls themselves an expert in this new world of new media is a liar or a speculative snake oil salesperson or latter-day clairvoyant.

I think I know a lot about it. And I certainly know enough to know that we’re only at the very beginning of a modern-day miracle of transformation in how we take in media – and I don’t just mean sports media in Baltimore. EVERYTHING that we knew about the world of media from the 1950s until two years ago is now a dinosaur when a guy from Dundalk like me can build a company like WNST.net. – one that essentially transmits news, information, audio, video and community in real time from anywhere in the world. We’re unlimited in our scope or the ability to transform sports media in Baltimore. We’re only limited in the resources that the marketplace provides via sponsorship.

After doing the last 16 “Radio Row” stints, it’s really remarkable when I see how polarizing and different the strategies of various companies – from the largest networks to the smallest radio stations – are handling the emerging changes in media and how the content is distributed.

But I’ll give you one key indicator. It always starts with what the sponsors and advertisers want. They pay for all of it and nearly all of the Super Bowl advertisers of substance and vision were chasing people to their computers to get folks on their Facebook, Twitter or dedicated online places with their uber-expensive, :30 second ads the other night. It’s not just Highlandtown’s C.E.O. Bob Parsons and Go Daddy who are trying to get you to watch the rest of the Danica Patrick commercial online and then chat about it on Twitter or Facebook anymore.

Virtually EVERY advertiser was chasing Super Bowl watchers to their laptops or PDA’s during the Saints 31-17 win on Sunday night. And aside from natural disasters and blizzards, the last bastion of “live” event programming is sports. Every other thing on your television is “DVR-able.” People still watch sports live – and probably always will – meaning the sponsor messages actually get seen and not fast-forwarded through. Radio is also considered more effective by marketers because folks have yet to figure a way to skip messages other than changing the channel, which is more of an FM habit.

So, if the Super Bowl is the “cutting edge” and the advertising was primarily sending traffic to the web, then I’m certainly doing the right thing here at WNST.net by attempting to build the greatest Baltimore sports media experience possible on the web. We want to be the place Baltimore communes during games to chat about the games in progress. We want to be the first place you turn for reliable information – when you want it and how you want it.

If you doubt the power of sports to bring people together all you needed to do was watch that parade in New Orleans on Tuesday night and remember what the Ravens’ 2001 championship did for Baltimore. If the Saints’ Super Bowl was vindication for Katrina, then Trent Dilfer and that defense was a massive vindication for all of us here and the Irsay/Mayflower memories and civic sadness. Sports brings people together. The Ravens bring people together like the Orioles used to when they cared about the community. WNST is designed to do that as well.

More than 1,000 of you have helped this week by filling out our survey. Honestly, we want more because we want our research to be as accurate as possible. We’re giving away a Panasonic 50-inch HDTV to one lucky winner.

Fill out our WNST State of Baltimore Sports Media Survey…

Now that I’m off of the radio and this blog will be my primary source to divulge information and my opinions and observations, this year I’ll become much more unabashed in what I’m writing about business, media and how it all works in Baltimore. The truth: I got off the radio to run the business. It’s really where my passion lies in 2010 and where my daily focus needs to be for the future of WNST.net. Anyone who really knows me knows this.

I’ll be doing some videos on the stuff that we’re doing to make WNST.net better as we install new developments and technology. We might even do some video tutorials with some features on the site. And if you give me a good ideas, we’ll try to install them somehow. I love when I see creative stuff on the web.

I’m trying to build a special kind of business with free speech and community and commerce at its core at WNST.net.

We want to cover the local high schools better. We want to do more with lacrosse. We want the Orioles to get “fixed” at some point. We want to be an “all seasons” sports resource for the Baltimore community. We want to find young, rock star writers and contributors and we’ll be doing another “Coors Light King of Baltimore Sports Media” competition this spring. People who love Baltimore sports as much as we do.

We want to take what we’re learning from our current poll and give you more of what you want. The company is nothing without the people who power it. I never forget that fact.

It’s why I started WNST.net in the first place.

Unlike the baseball owner in town, I’m happily held accountable.

We’ve made it this far against all of the odds. We’re No. 1 in the marketplace in daily traffic for Baltimore sports. That’s just a measurable fact.

Our product has NEVER been better. We’ve never had MORE people involved in the WNST message and every day we set out to be “different” than the corporate, out-of-town managed and produced sports radio, television and newspaper types in town.

We can move quicker. We can get you the information in the format you want it. And we’ll get it right every time and hopefully make you think – and feedback – in a variety of ways.

I’ll be unabashed, honest, just like I’ve always been. But it gets harder every day with various political and financial pressure and censorship as we’ve outline this week.

The old media is fading. They’re for sale and it’s obvious. The ratings are for sale, too, really. Press passes and freedom of speech mean nothing. And lies published about you in the new world of the internet take on lives of their own.

But to me, you can’t sell the city off to the gypsies and live to tell. Baltimore is a national punch line in many ways. The Mayor just got indicted and convicted. The Wire is the paranoia of the public relations people in town but it’s how a large segment of the country views us. The Orioles are so “uncool” and irrelevant that Leno and Letterman don’t even make jokes about them. They’re THAT bad…that insignificant. The Baltimore Sun is in bankruptcy.

Where will the voices of Baltimore come from in the coming years? If it’s not WNST.net it’ll be someplace like it — a community “town hall” that will be more representative than a corporate, out-of-town news organization with no vested interest in Baltimore.

We believe in free speech. We don’t ban the media. We are accountable.
And we’re growing. Are you coming with us?

What more can we do at WNST other than state our mission and follow up on it with hard work every day? And hopefully you’ll talk about it and tell your sports friends about WNST and how we’re “different” than the other guys. We’re proud of that!

Fill out our survey! Tell us what we’re missing. Tell us how we suck. Tell us that we’re great. Tell us whatever you want.

Do you want mobile apps? Widgets? Better information? Honest, accurate information? Sent directly to your PDA? Available from anywhere in the world?

So much for that “little radio station,” right?

So what does the future digital world look like?

Are the bloggers going to take over the universe, the greatest fear of the Buzz Bizzinger types?

Will Twitter become the world’s biggest online “newspaper” in real time?

And will team websites evolve past the modern day extension of the current Jim Hunter and include analysis and/or criticism of themselves and their employees? (Probably not…)

We’ll keep working hard and communicating and trying to get better. That’s been my solemn vow from the beginning, to be the best.

My staff and I wake up every morning fully committed to fulfilling that goal.

How are we doing?

Go ahead and drop me a personal note…nasty@wnst.net. Get it off your chest!

To all of the folks who’ve given us the support and enthusiasm over the years – do us two favors:

1. Say nice things to your friends and recommend the stuff you really like at WNST.net. It’s the most robust, easily-accessible and FREE website in the marketplace.
2. Join our contests, events, promotions and clubs at WNST.net.

And if you’re STILL not satisfied, just do me a favor: send me a note right now either here or on Facebook. My Facebook name is Nestor J. Aparicio and I approve all people who want to be “friends” with me on my friends and personal page.

I worked at The Sun, wrote The Moon and now I will attempt to shape the next decade of sports media in Baltimore and where it’s going by building a company that serves our community. (Maybe we’ll call that “The Stars.”)

Here’s my personal email again (it’s the only one I have): nasty@wnst.net

As usual, we strive to stay ahead of the curve on technology.

The WNST story continues…

I really hope you choose to be a part of it!

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