Opinion: Use your imagination – the opportunity in sport podcasting

Jim Salveson, Head of Sport Social Podcast Network offers his thoughts on the opportunity sports clubs, brands and rights holders have in audio and podcasting:

I often find it hard to believe that podcasting is still very much an underexploited opportunity for many major sports teams, brands and governing bodies. In fact, the market is rocketing: 2020 stats from Spotify AB* showed the number of sports podcasts had increased three times in 18 months, and Podtrac analysis** found a 124% year-on-year increase in downloads in 2022.

So with interest from listeners booming, the potential sport pods have for audience engagement and revenue generation is huge. Yet still, many big players in the sports world are reluctant to take the plunge.

It would seem one of the major barriers for entry is one that is actually pretty easy to overcome: A lack of imagination.

Speaking recently at The Podcast Show in London***, Voiceworks Sport MD, Sophie Hind gave some insight into one of the key things that she believes is holding the world of official sports podcasts back:

“Some rights holders struggle to imagine what their audio strategy could sound like. There are many very successful fan created podcasts that have significant audience and yet some, particularly football clubs, assume they need to go down the traditional route of post-match reviews and analysis, and they can’t necessarily do that.”

There is no doubt there is a challenge for rights holders here. How can they create an authentic and interesting product, while also creating content that avoids criticism of the team, manager or players when (on occasion) it might be warranted?

The solution is thinking outside of the box.

This isn’t just a sports issue. Creativity and originality are a challenge across the podcasting landscape, in all sectors. For every hugely original and beautifully creative podcasts, there are nine that trod the well-travelled path of ‘discussion’ or ‘interview’ formats. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with either of those formats (when done well) but when, as a format, those options are off the table it’s time to get creative!

One such rights holder that has successfully navigated that challenge is Formula One, whose award winning ‘Beyond the Grid’ podcast has set a benchmark for many others to follow. Jonathan Reynolds (now podcast manager at The Race Media) was part of the team at F1 when that podcast was launched and explains their process:

“We started with everything that we couldn’t do. Once we’d established what was off the table then we were able to focus on our unique selling point and create the show we came up with.”

It’s not an easy process. If you take out all the obvious content routes, it can leave the ‘ideas cupboard’ looking a little bare. This is where many rights holders fall down. These organisations usually have great, creative content teams but those same content teams are used to creating assets for social media or video channels. Not audio. 

There is no substitute for expertise in this space. Working with the right audio partner who really understands the medium to help with the ideation and look at a creative solution is a worthwhile investment ahead of establishing any audio strategy or podcast project.

Some, however, have got it right. And when they do it can pay huge dividends. 

Manchester United, for example, is traditionally a very “safe” football club when it comes to fan engagement and communication and so it may be a surprise to some that they have created and produced one of the most successful and engaging podcasts in the football space.

The club identified its USP as its rich history of iconic players and the access they were able to provide to those players. They created a simple interview podcast – UTD – with names from the club’s past, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand.  It’s presented in a “fan friendly” way, with a more casual feel that complimented rather than competed with much of the former player content available in the wider media landscape.

The show has been a regular at the top end of the Apple podcast charts, has become a key driver for use of the official Manchester United app (added 18 months after its launch) and pulls in an estimated 50,000 dedicated and highly engaged listeners every week.

Not being able to visualise (or should that be audiate?) your content should not be a barrier to giving your fans the podcast that they crave but engaging the right people and thinking outside the box is key to getting the right product and the right results.

* https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/podcast-market

** https://www.insideradio.com/podcastnewsdaily/post-super-bowl-sports-podcast-downloads-double-year-to-year/article_a15fc446-9408-11ec-92e2-e72d6bccc34e.html

*** To hear more from Sophie Hind and Jonathan Reynold listen to their discussion “The Crowd Goes Wild: How to make great sports audio” on the Voiceworks: Sound Business podcast: https://pod.fo/e/125e32

Sport Social Podcast Network is a global sports podcast network that provides creators with access to consultancy, monetisation, hosting, analytics and cross-promotion opportunities – everything they need to grow their audiences and deliver compelling sports content. Sport Social is backed by Communicorp UK. 

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