Broadcaster seeks a wider audience

It was not the most promising start for the young sports enthusiast’s business career.

Having discovered his ball control skills were average at best, Jonny
Gould resorted to working as a sports newsreader for the BBC local
radio station in Birmingham. After moving to a rival commercial radio
station, he set off to seek his fortune in London.

To his surprise, he was able to negotiate the sponsorship of radio
broadcasts transmitted on 125 stations reporting on the 1992 return of
South Africa to the international rugby scene, when they played England
at Twickenham. “I was making it up as I went along,” admits Mr Gould,
“but the proposal was approved and I suddenly realised the potential
for sponsorship sales on radio sports reports.”

Without delay, he formed his Sportsmedia Broadcasting company. Then he
waited. It took another 13 months before he was able to secure his next
sponsorship contract. The next deal came just 13 days later. The long,
painful start-up phase had taught Mr Gould to focus on exactly what he
was selling: guaranteed ‘live-to-air’ broadcasts from the event the
company was sponsoring.

Business began to pour in. “On one day in 1994 we did four live outside
broadcasts in one day,” says Mr Gould. “It was going out of control and
I had to take on three new staff in 24 hours.”

The flamboyant young entrepreneur had hit on a formula that brought
benefits to all parties. Local and regional radio stations got free
sports content, while the sponsors enjoyed the assurance of guaranteed
exposure within sports news bulletins and live outside broadcasts.
Scores of independent radio stations and national networks of local
stations leapt at the chance.

Sportsmedia now supplies its sports content to more than 100 stations.
Its content is sponsored by over 20 firms such as Paddy Power, T-Mobile
and Nationwide Building Society. The total audience is up to 5m people
depending on the popularity of the sports events underway, and
listeners hear the sponsors’ messages an average of three times per
week.

The broadcasting agency invested in five new studios early last year
plus technology to enable the sports stories to be localised for each
radio station. National sports stories are now combined with coverage
of local and regional sports events and personalities. This gives it a
bespoke, local feel that is popular with audiences and has helped to
sustain the company’s growth. Annual sales grew by 15pc last year to
more than £750,000. The technology that makes this localisation
possible presents a serious threat to traditional radio stations,
however. Sports fans do not need to listen to local radio stations for
news. They can opt for RSS ‘news feeds’ on their computer terminals
about the exact topics in which they are interested or receive news
text messages to their mobile phones.

Gould has reinvested his profits in two ways to counter this threat. His new footballaudio.com website transfers radio-style reporting on to the web and adds competitions, podcasts, video footage and RSS feeds.

Not only is it proving a good shop-window for the company and
attracting website sponsorship, it is also being sold as a ‘white
label’ product that other websites can use under their own branding.
SportsMedia supplies a daily football podcast on Nationwide’s football
website and has its own Football Audio channel on i-Tunes.

Mr Gould expects footballaudio.com to take a 10pc share of sales, but
believes it will be overshadowed by diversification into new subject
areas on radio. Sponsored content covering environmental topics will
start soon, after a move into finance reporting that started early this
year.

“We don’t bother with traditional stock market reports and interviews
with City traders,” Mr Gould explains. “Instead, we decided to focus on
easily accessible, consumer-oriented news stories about interest rates
and the costs of things such as banking, utilities and insurance that
have a direct impact on our audience.”



Having had the idea in November, Mr Gould attracted IG Index as the
first sponsor the following month, signed up some initial radio
stations in January and profitably taken the 90-second daily ‘finance
news’ broadcasts to air by February. Audience responses from stations
such as Classic Gold have been very positive and the daily slots will
soon grow from late afternoon to breakfast-time as well. The audience
is set to grow to 2m a week.

Mr Gould has just done a deal to syndicate sports and business news to
Capital Gold’s 25 stations across the UK. “That will increase our
overall total listeners by at least 60pc,” he said. Those breakfast and
drivetime broadcasts started earlier this month.

To exploit the full potential of finance reporting, Mr Gould believes
he needs to strengthen his management structure. He cannot handle all
the sales and business management himself.

“We are playing a new game here,” says Mr Gould, “and I find myself being drawn back too easily into the familiar stuff.”

He recognises it is difficult to address the pressure for extra
research, sponsorship sales and management when time and money are
limited.

“Spellcheck ensures my business plans are spelled correctly these days, but I’m still having to make it up as I go along.”

One year on…

Jonny Gould writes: “The last year has been an exciting period of
growth and consolidation. I never take consolidation lightly – after
all it’s basically a vote of confidence from our existing customers,
especially in these times of commercial thrift. We are still being
viewed as a key and cost-effective communications tool by them.

The growth has come in station acquisition: we’ve over 100 stations
taking our sports bulletins. Our Finance bulletins are now established
on 64 stations – and underpinned by a solid 2 year sponsorship deal.

We’ve also agreed a major syndication deal with GCap Media’s Gold
Radio, which means we broadcast nationally – taking our affiliate list
into treble figures.

The challenges on a management structure are being addressed right now.
It was clear I needed to develop an executive team, primarily to
replicate my skills and chase all the leads and strategies for growth.

I’m negotiating with a sales director and a managing director. If I
make the appointments, I’ll get a promotion myself – to Chief
Executive!”
Jonny Gould was talking to Dave Sumner-Smith – previously featured in The Telegraph Business Club