Athletes are increasingly becoming media personalities in their own right as they seek opportunities off the field or on the court.
One of the fastest growing areas in sports media is the athlete-led video podcast, where players recap the past week, interview teammates or other guests and stoke rivalries.
Just look at the success of the New heights podcast, hosted by Philadelphia Eagles star Jason Kelce and his brother Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce, which has seen its number of YouTube viewers and podcast listeners skyrocket this season (perhaps for reasons other than football…).
It’s an opportunity too good for media companies to ignore. So Bleacher Report, Warner Bros.’ digital sports brand. Discovery, has made it a priority by launching video podcasts hosted by the likes of Buffalo Bills star Von Miller (The Voncast), Dallas Cowboys star Micah Parsons (The Edge with Micah Parsons), Los Angeles Dodgers all-star Mookie Betts (On base with Mookie Betts) and University of Colorado star Travis Hunter.
“We’ve been thinking strategically about investing in video and podcasts,” said Bennett Spector, managing director of Bleacher Report. “We’re always looking at consumption trends and how sports fans and consumers interact with content, and Bleacher Report is truly a sports platform for the next generation. A large part of the consumption of younger people and younger sports fans is live and interactive video.”
“And we take a lot of cues from other platforms that generate high engagement, so we look at the YouTubes and Twitches of the world, and we see that live and interactive video makes up the majority of that consumption,” Spector adds.
The result is Bleacher Report’s video podcast bet, which takes big athletes with big personalities and uses that content to trickle down to the rest of the company’s platforms.
“More often than not, over the last decade, people have thought about Internet video through the lens of VOD, which was essentially a kind of expensive studio-based video that was, you know, a big investment for a very short shelf life. content,” says Spector. “But what we discovered through live is that you can produce that content, quote-unquote, as cheaply as live, and then stream it all downstream.”
“You can also have that live turned into a VOD video that can appear on certain platforms, and then that VOD video can be broken up into lots of little pieces for social channels,” he adds. “Ultimately, all you can do is extract the audio file for a podcast, and if you create one piece of content through a vodcast, it actually generates 20 to 30 pieces of content that you can show to millions of people.”
It’s a strategy that also seems to be catching on with athletes.
“If I randomly meet someone and they say, ‘Hey, I watched your podcast the other day or say, ‘Hey, I saw you on the internet’… not like me playing football or anything like that, but just guys who like me know about my podcast, you know? So it’s super cool,” says Miller. “Like, it’s super cool to have reach and be able to reach an audience that I couldn’t really reach before.”
“I had a free way to just talk about what I wanted. To talk about what I thought was important,” adds Parsons. “There was nothing that made me feel boxed in, it was a bit like Micah’s world… honesty, transparency and just completely honest communication, and just letting me be myself without limiting who I am or what I can say, and I felt like we’ve done a good job so far.”
Bleacher Report signs up the athletes and provides them with equipment and staff to help produce the podcasts. After it’s done, the company helps distribute them by posting them on its own platforms, as well as on YouTube, through podcast players and other social channels.
Young Von probably couldn’t do a podcast and talk about it every week,” Miller says. “But now I feel so comfortable in who I am, so comfortable in my career, that I can talk easily, and I think the people I have around me do so much research, and they present that in a way that I can really stick with it, and the criticism is always positive and I can really learn and I can keep evolving every show. I feel like I’m getting better and better and better.”
Bleacher Report’s strategy is also somewhat unusual in that it isn’t afraid to help its talent develop their broadcast skills that can ultimately be used elsewhere.
“I think a lot of media companies take a protectionist approach to their talent, and I think Bleacher is okay with people using it not necessarily as a stepping stone, but as a parallel path to more traditional media responsibility for these guys. says Spector. “Micah could do an NFL post show in a studio setting in a suit, but what we offer is slightly different and I think it’s complementary to that: he can reach the more casual or younger generation through Bleacher Report, and where he can reaching the more traditional consumer linearly, and I don’t think those things have to be mutually exclusive.”
“I think this is the first step for me,” says Parsons. “Eventually I want to be on CBS, I want to do nightly games, or I want to cover the show on maybe Fox or ESPN or something like that. Make sure I definitely get my foot in the door representing the NFL in that media room.
“Michael Strahan is my idol,” Miller added, pointing to the Fox NFL studio host and ABC Good morning America co-anchor. “So from the first day I played in the National Football League, that was the angle for me. I always felt like things were going well, Michael Strahan doing his thing, and I thought, yeah, that’s what I want to be like. So I always knew this was something I wanted to do.”
As for Bleacher Report, it’s already looking to the next generation of video podcast talent, with the new NBA and NHL seasons leading the way. Spector notes that the company has NHL, NBA, MLB and March Madness basketball rights, and that leaning on those relationships “creates a flywheel of content that you’ll see on Linear or on Max. We are trying to fuel those fires.”
“So NHL is going to be an area of expansion for us,” he says. “We also have college rights regarding March Madness. I think you can imagine that that will cause us to expand. We have American football rights. So the US men’s national teams are once again looking to expand within that industry. So we’re looking at our rights and the NBA will probably be the cornerstone of that.”