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Scott Shapiro Sees Bright Multiplatform Future for FOX Sports Radio

For the last eight years, Scott Shapiro has worked as the vice president of FOX Sports Radio and has been an eminent voice regarding programming acquisitions and decisions to help grow the network’s audience and reach. Last month, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of FOX Sports Radio and podcasts – the national radio network operated and distributed by Premiere Networks, which is owned by iHeartMedia.

The promotion is meaningful for Shapiro as he steps into a new leadership role, underscoring the company’s trust in his ability to lead them into the next generation of audio production and distribution amid changes in media production and consumption.

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“The most important thing is being in a place and working with people that support you and that get the business,” Shapiro said. “I’m really in that situation here and I feel very fortunate, and quite honestly I feel fortunate every day. These are people who are trailblazers in the industry – and by the industry I mean audio; I don’t just mean radio.”

Having a focus on maintaining a lineup to inform and entertain audiences is what keeps Shapiro motivated to work each day – and it is an aspect of his managerial style that he brought to the network from his formative days. During his first year as vice president of FOX Sports Radio, Shapiro worked with FOX Sports television to close a deal in which Colin Cowherd and his show, The Herd, would be simulcast. Additionally, Cowherd joined the cast of FOX NFL Kickoff which he co-hosted with Charissa Thompson prior to the NFL on FOX on Sundays.

Cowherd had previously been with ESPN for over a decade and his addition to FOX Sports Radio enhanced an already-deep lineup of programming that featured Dan Patrick, Jay Mohr, and Rich Eisen. Cowherd’s show alone nearly reached 20 million people across multiple platforms of dissemination in its first month on the air and following its first year, signed its 100th affiliate station and was the number one sports podcast from iHeartRadio.

“I really believe from the time that Colin joined us – that right there swung the balance in our favor in terms of having what we consider the best sports talk lineup in the nation – and we’ve made many moves since then,” Shapiro said. “…Getting Colin was massive – and more than anything else – it showed that we were serious about growing this business and there was support up and down the company for being able to go out and get a show like The Herd and to get a talent like Colin.”

Since then, FOX Sports Radio has continued to evaluate its product and executed transactions focused towards its goal of informing and entertaining listeners. Whether it has been the addition of talent including Clay Travis, Doug Gottlieb, Chris Broussard and Rob Parker or the expansion of the platform’s digital presence, Shapiro has been pivotal in helping oversee and monitor key performance indicators to guide future growth.

“We’ve been allocated the proper resources to grow and really compete,” Shapiro expressed. “As a result of the investment in the product, we’ve really been able to stand out. I love the growth that we’ve had as a network over all of these years.”

Broadcasting at a national scale was nothing new to Shapiro. Before joining FOX Sports Radio in 2015, Shapiro served as the program director of ESPN Radio where he managed shows including Mike & Mike, SVP & Russillo, and the aforementioned Herd. Moreover, he helped broker cross-platform initiatives including remote broadcasts, book tours, and the creation of digitally-focused content.

“We don’t take lightly that there’s a national audience and there’s a lot of people who listen,” Shapiro said. “We look at that as something that holds us accountable but something that’s exciting…. We want as big of an audience as possible and that motivates you to really give your best.”

Shapiro would not have made the move from ESPN Radio to FOX Sports Radio had it not been for the expertise of Executive Vice President of Programming at iHeartMedia Don Martin. During his job interview, Martin told Shapiro of the family atmosphere fostered at iHeartMedia and how he would be treated. Upon joining the company, Shapiro recognized that Martin meant every word of what he had expressed.

Today, Shapiro estimates he and Martin converse at least six to seven times per day in discussions geared towards developing strategy to ensure the company and the brand continues to flourish.

“He’s accessible, he’s transparent, he loves the company, and more than anything he loves the people,” Shapiro said of Martin. “We think very much alike where in big decisions, we always end up on the same page. We’re able to talk things through and more than anything else, we’re great to help really set the tone for what’s already a great network and fueling the growth to continue [being a] great network.”

Similarly, President of Premiere Networks Julie Talbott has impacted Shapiro’s time with the company, garnering an expectation of collaboration and leadership extending throughout the entity. Both Talbott and Martin are experienced professionals in the audio industry and working with them on a daily basis has helped round Shapiro into the executive he is today.

“These are folks who really care about their people,” Shapiro said. “They’re fair, they’re honest, they’re incredibly respected through the industry and even more so they’re respected by the people that work with them closest. That’s how you know when you have good people and smart people – that they’re not only respected outside the walls, but they’re respected even more from the people who work with them every day.”

FOX Sports Radio, like all other sports media outlets, have competitors in the format and hypothesize methods that will ensure their survival within a crowded and ostensibly congested media landscape. Shapiro is cognizant of just how valuable gaining shares of individuals’ time is, especially within an era of steadily rising levels of information engagement and, sometimes, its accompanying rise in stress.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that 26% of respondents expect to feel higher levels of stress this year than last – and sports represent a form of entertainment which can assist in easing often-associated feelings of tension and anxiety.

“We want our folks to go deeper on the bigger storylines of the day and really bring a unique vantage point that you’re not going to get anywhere else,” Shapiro said. “Ideally, we don’t want just cookie-cutter material that’s regurgitated. We want people who do their homework, who come on the air, tell great stories, make the audience think and react and really make people smarter while entertaining them.”

Featuring established, respected professionals in the industry in the on-air lineup such as Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, and Doug Gottlieb bring a level of ethos and trust to programming that differentiates FOX Sports Radio from some of its competitors. According to Shapiro, they possess a certain “mind-share” with the audience in which consumers are interested in hearing what the talent have to say pertaining to events in sports, compelling them to listen to the program.

“When big things happen in sports – whether it’s on the field; a transaction; rumors; storylines – we want listeners to immediately think, ‘What does Colin Cowherd — what does Dan Patrick — what do they think about this?,’” Shapiro said. “Fortunately when you have big names in the industry, there’s folks who have listened to them for years. There’s folks who have tuned in to them to find out their opinions on big topics. Having big names and great performers on the air is important because ultimately there’s so many options for any consumer to find opinions.”

Newer programming, such as Covino and Rich which was added in late-September 2022 in the 5:00-7:00 PM EST time slot after previous stints airing on SiriusXM, SNY, and ESPN, has created new voices around the network’s enduring programs. Steve Covino and Rich Davis had joined FOX Sports Radio in September 2021 to contribute to its weekend football coverage and continue to host the Covino & Rich podcast available with a subscription on Patreon.

Adding a dynamic program in which the hosts interact and candidly express themselves fosters a sense of relatability between the show and its fans, and implementing pop culture into the discussion brings added entertainment value.

“They’re not necessarily journalists who are jaded and have opinions and just do hot takes,” Shapiro said. “They do have a ton of opinions, but their focus of the sports world is… really [through] every person who’s out there.”

In addition to having increased oversight on FOX Sports Radio, Shapiro also figures to be critical in continuing to build and maintain the network’s original podcast offerings. Over the years, the network has launched original podcasts with a range of different focuses in the world of sports, including I Want Your Flex; Straight Fire with Jason McIntyre and Unbreakable with Jay Glazer.

“Podcasting has exploded,” Shapiro affirmed. “It is a very cluttered marketplace, so we put the same standards on original podcasts as we do on original radio shows. We want great, compelling content; we want topics and ideas that aren’t already out there; we want different viewpoints. We really think [that] with the right hosts [and] with the right production, [we can] make compelling content [and] people will find us if the product is good enough and unique enough.”

FOX Sports Radio also offers on-demand versions of its radio programs presented as podcasts to allow consumers to catch up on anything they were unable to hear live on the air. The on-demand radio shows tend to draw the largest audiences, an occurrence that can be attributed to the draw of the on-air lineup and unparalleled content that has come to be expected from them on a daily basis. The Herd with Colin Cowherd podcast is a “behemoth,” per Shapiro, because of Cowherd’s personality and the sheer length and time of his radio show.

“Very few people will be able to listen to even an hour of his three live hours per day, let alone listen to all three hours at all,” Shapiro said. “….There’s no better compliment to The Herd brand and to Colin than people wanting to see and wanting to hear what they missed.”

In order to guide his team to success, Shapiro reviews data compiled through quantitative modalities – such as traditional Nielsen ratings, total podcast downloads and metrics on social media. At the same time, he looks at the quantitative aspects of these data, aiming to identify the determinants behind the numbers to effectively accentuate programming and sustain aggregated growth.

“If we were to solely look at terrestrial ratings, we’d be making a mistake because there are some shows that perform far better as podcasts than they might in the terrestrial radio ratings,” Shapiro said. “As long as we can properly sell and monetize the ratings across all platforms, then we’re doing well.”

In the end, FOX Sports Radio is intent on expanding its audience while promoting cross-platform listening, meaning that it will attempt to, for example, draw podcast consumers to listen to the radio show; or radio show listeners to its social media handles. Accessibility and widespread distribution is fundamental over any sequence of targeted audience expansion and subsequent retention.

Without it, a preponderance of listeners will look elsewhere for content and the paucity of those who can find the show may not be inclined to stick around when part of a smaller community. That has not been an issue for iHeartMedia and FOX Sports Radio, as it has observed growth on multiple platforms of dissemination with various types of programming thanks to its steadfast audience and means of promotion.

“The audio industry is a great place to be because if you’re a content creator, there are so many people yearning to listen to great content,” Shapiro explained. “It’s incredibly exciting that there’s so many people out there. It’s a growing industry when you look at all of audio and that’s what iHeart has done so well with. They’re going to reach listeners wherever they are.”

The issue is in the lack of a key performance indicator which accumulates metrics across different avenues of consumption that can be utilized in determining a company’s position in the marketplace. Although sports radio can distinguish itself through the style of programming and connection created between its host and the listeners, it competes with sports-focused podcasts, television programming, live games, social media content and digital communities – not to mention all of those platforms outside of the realm of sports.

The dearth of an effective paradigm is a matter of concern for Shapiro and other executives in sports radio that causes some levels of uncertainty regarding the accuracy and veracity of current methods of data analysis.

“The troublesome part is ‘How can we truly, properly measure and sell across all of these platforms?,’” Shapiro added. “We know more people are listening; there’s evidence that more people are listening than ever before but still – how can we have a universal ratings system where we can properly measure and then properly sell against all of those people who are listening to content?”

Shapiro began his career working at 790 The Zone in Atlanta, as producer of Mayhem in the AM, helping the show earn record-high ratings. Three years later in 2006, he made the move to producing on the national scale with ESPN Radio on Mike & Mike in the Morning, in which he continued increased ratings growth and coordinated remote broadcasts around the country from important landmarks and popular events.

Having worked on both the local and national scales of radio, he understands the limitations on topics each outlet can discuss due to how they would appeal to their respective audiences. Yet the goal is captivating and retaining listener interest, making the presentation of the content all the more essential – and it is a challenge that keeps Shapiro and his team motivated to put the extra effort in to ensure the brand is successful nationally.

“Whether we’re talking about your team or not, we want to make our topics relatable enough that it’s going to get any sports fans’ interest regardless if we’re talking about the team in your backyard or not,” Shapiro expressed. “That’s why it’s so important that we have incredible talent. We have great people behind the scenes to really elevate the content to make it interesting to all sports fans.”

In just over three months, Shapiro will attend the 2023 Barrett Sports Media Summit at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. While there, he will participate in a panel and looks forward to being present at a conference specially designed for those in sports media. He has been an event attendee several years in the past, including at last year’s summit held in New York City, and values the opportunity to interact with those directly invested in the industry.

“There’s so many conferences where it could be very [different] industries represented and it has to be so broad because there’s an elementary level of education on these topics,” he said. “With this, these are people who live and die with this industry. They have such a love for it and such a knowledge for it that you’re speaking to a very educated and motivated audience whenever you are at the Summit.”

Sometimes during his free time, Shapiro finds himself listening to sports radio simply because he enjoys the content and, as a result, occasionally finds himself working. Now following his promotion to senior vice president of FOX Sports Radio and Podcasts, Shapiro is eager to continue serving the audience, affiliate stations, clients and company employees within a changing, dynamic media environment.

“For folks that are interested in audio and in sports, I can’t think of a better career because you get to blend those interests together,” Shapiro said. “But like anything else, you really have to love what you do and give it your all – and when you do great things can happen.”

Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on X @derekfutterman.

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