The Opportunity for Brands to Launch a Sports Podcast

Why brands should take advantage of this untapped category.

Would you believe there are only three branded podcasts in the Top 250 of the Sports category from Apple Podcasts, and that just one ranks in the Top 100?

When we think about opportunities for brands in podcasting, one of the biggest untapped areas is growing out your audience until your podcast ranks in the charts. We’ve written about the benefits before – be it with Marketing brands and Tech brands, or even, most recently, in Banking.

Yet, these are the facts that stood out when we looked at the Apple Podcasts sports category:

  • Thirty-one of the Top 100 podcasts in the category are produced by one of the following four media companies – ESPN (14); iHeart (7); Barstool (5); The Ringer Spotify (5).

  • Those four companies account for 13 of the podcasts ranked in the Top 25.

  • Of the Top 25 podcasts, five of them, like ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption”, are nothing more than TV shows rehashed as podcast content. Two of the Top 10 are radio shows rehashed as podcast content.

  • A few podcasts in the Top 100 are about or by sports teams or individual athletes, but these don’t have the power of a big brand behind them.

In other words, we have more sports content than we know what to do with. And we know the audience for sports is enormous. There is far more sports content produced than there is time available on non-digital platforms. Podcasting is currently media’s biggest growth industry. The proof of that is the number of podcasts in the Top 100 produced by legacy media companies like ESPN, CBS and Fox. Those are the types of names we see in the Top 100. What we do not see are the kinds of boldfaced brand names like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, or even Red Bull. They are simply missing.

The podcasting space represents a huge opportunity for a major sporting brand to move into the podcast charts, and reap the benefits without having to navigate much competition at all in order to do so.

Need more proof? Let’s take a look at the current competition in branded sports podcasts.

Sports’ most popular branded podcasts

 You might be wondering at this point whether a branded series can really compete with a podcast created as a standalone product.

 Looking at the charts, it’s clear the answer is yes. REI has charted in the Top 250, and even a much lesser brand – FieldCraft Survival – has charted in the Top 100.

 If you’re ready to see what these brands (and their forward-thinking marketing teams) are up to, you’ll want to explore this list — and maybe even find some time to tune in.

#78 (FIELDCRAFT SURVIVAL) – FieldCraft Survival

The US military veterans who own Fieldcraft Survival discuss survival, tactics, defense, gear, fitness, overlanding, mobility, military, and more recently, the war in Ukraine and school safety.

Based in Utah, Fieldcraft Survival sells a wide array of survival gear and apparel as well as gun holsters and slings. They also offer a variety of training courses in firearms, medicine and survival.

They debuted their podcast in December 2016, and have settled into publishing episodes weekly. Episodes ranging in length from 30 minutes to nearly two hours.

As we write, Fieldcraft Survival features 293 episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#184 (ORVIS) – The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast

This podcast is about all things fly-fishing and provides weekly tips from author and lifelong fly-fishing enthusiast, Tom Rosenbauer.

Founded in 1856, Orvis describes itself as a fly-fishing and wing-shooting brand that’s “inspired by nature, driven by curiosity, and fulfilled by adventure.”

The podcast debuted in April 2008, and publishes episodes weekly. Most episodes are approximately 90 minutes in length.

As we write, The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast features more than 700 episodes and a listener rating of 4.8 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#235 (REI) – Wild Ideas Worth Living

Host Shelby Stanger interviews world-class explorers, athletes, authors, scientists, health experts and entrepreneurs about how they’ve taken their own wild ideas and made them into reality, so listeners can have their own outdoor adventures, too.

REI is an outdoor and camping gear company with the motto, “a life outdoors is a life well-lived.” Its 2021 revenue was $3.7 billion.

The podcast debuted in December 2016, and publishes episodes weekly. Most episodes are approximately 30 minutes in length.

As we write, Wild Ideas Worth Living features 199 episodes and a listener rating of 4.7 stars on Apple Podcasts.

Sports’ most popular shows overall

 If sports is a ring you want to throw your hat into, you should certainly be aware of what performs best in this space, even among standalone or unbranded podcasts.

This is data that tells us what a show needs to succeed and what listeners really want to hear. Suffice to say, it’s invaluable for anyone looking to rock the sports space.

So without further ado, let’s check out the top performers overall as per Apple Podcasts.

#1 Barstool Sports – Pardon My Take

Hosts Dan “Big Cat” Katz and fictional personality PFT Commenter, played by journalist Eric Sollenberger, offer “the loudest and most correct sports takes in the history of the spoken word.”

The conversations range from their own talk about the latest sports events as well as a plethora of guests from athletes, sports media personalities and comedians, as well as a recurring segment, “Fyre Fest of the Week,” in which the gang deliver their week’s most epic fails.

Debuting in February 2016, the podcast publishes two to three episodes each week. Most episodes are approximately 2 hours in length.

As we write, Pardon My Take features 606 episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts

#2 DraftKings – The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz

Former Miami Herald sports columnist and Jon “Stugotz” Weiner have been partners since their show debuted in Miami in 2004. Their show later moved to ESPN Radio before leaving the network in January 2021. Le Batard and Weiner then formed Meadowlark Media and turned their show into an independent podcast before reaching an eight-figure sponsorship deal with DraftKings in June of that year.

Le Batard particularly enjoys carping on Stugotz’s epically bad sports takes during discussions about the national sports scene and pop culture. There’s also a Local Hour, focused on South Florida, with recurring guests like Ron Magill from the Miami-Dade Zoological Park.

Episodes are published daily, and while the show is three hours long, it’s split into three one-hour chunks on Apple podcasts.

As we write, The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz features 185 available episodes and a listener rating of 4.8 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#3 VaynerMedia – The Pivot Podcast

The three former NFL players – Channing Crowder, Fred Taylor and Ryan Clark – treat each other like brothers while discussing topics ranging from race to culture, sports, family, mental health, sexuality and more with household names like Charles Barkley, Caitlyn Jenner, Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez.

Taylor told USA Today the podcast is “a platform to learn and educate. Teaching, transparency and learning.”

Debuted in January 2022, and publishes two episodes each week (also available on YouTube). Episode length ranges from approximately 30 minutes to an hour.

As we write, The Pivot Podcast features 43 episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#4 The Ringer/ Spotify – The Bill Simmons Podcast

Debuted as The Bill Simmons Podcast in October 2015 and publishes two episodes each week. Episode length ranges from approximately 30 minutes to an hour in length. Simmons started his podcasting career with the B.S. Report on ESPN in 2007.

According to the series description, Simmons “hosts the most downloaded sports podcast of all time,” featuring celebrities, athletes and media personalities along with Cousin Sal and Joe House, who have been mainstays since the ESPN days.

As we write, The Bill Simmons Podcast features 994 episodes and a listener rating of 4.4 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#5 Podcast Heat – Foley is Pod

Known at different points also as Mankind and Dude Love in the 1990s, Foley became a cult legend for a style, that even in professional wrestling, was viewed as physical and extreme in the stunts he would do and pain he was willing to endure in the name of sports entertainment.

Alongside co-host Conrad Thompson, Foley’s podcast takes listeners on a guided career ride-along.

Debuted in June 2022, as of this writing, it has a series trailer and one 3-hour episode. It has a planned weekly publishing schedule.

As we write, Foley is Pod features 1 full episode and a killer 5-star rating on Apple Podcasts.

#6 The Volume and iHeartPodcasts – The Draymond Green Show

This podcast gives the self-described “NBA’s most charismatic and often polarizing players” a platform to discuss whatever is most of interest to him. That ranges from the Warriors’ run to the NBA finals to interview subjects like teammate Stephen Curry. Green also talks Will Smith versus Chris Rock and Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated against COVID.

Debuted in November 2021, and publishes weekly. Episode length is approximately 60 minutes.

As we write, The Draymond Green Show features 43 episodes and a listener rating of 4.8 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#7 The Ringer/Spotify – The Ryen Russillo Podcast

The podcast sounds very much like a sports talk radio show that airs twice weekly rather than daily. This allows for some deeper dives into topics. There are also interviews with current and former athletes and sports personalities, and each episode ends with listener-submitted Life Advice questions Russillo and his producers attempt to answer.

Debuted in August 2018, and publishes semi-weekly. Episode length ranges from approximately an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes. Russillo had previously been a longtime ESPN Radio host before leaving for The Ringer.

As we write, The Ryen Russillo Podcast features 387 available episodes and a listener rating of 4.7 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#8 Dirty Mo Media – The Dale Jr. Download

This is a fascinating first-person perspective on all things motorsports from a race car driver, broadcaster and son of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. No subject is off the table, whether it’s Dale Jr’s relationship with his father, a former colleague alleging he was blackballed from the sport or another fellow driver talking about how the parts of his life – stealing cars and robbing houses – he’s least proud of.

Debuted in April 2013, and publishes weekly. Episode length ranges from approximately 90 minutes to 3 hours.

As we write, The Dale Jr. Download features 389 available episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#9 Barstool Sports – Bussin’ with the Boys

Current NFL players Will Compton and Taylor Lewan discuss some of the current issues they face as mid-to-late career players and have guests ranging from fellow NFL players like Melvin Gordon and former athletes and sports media personalities to bands and comedians.

Debuted in May 2019, and publishes 2-3 times weekly. Episode length ranges from approximately 90 minutes to 2.5 hours.

As we write, Bussin’ With the Boys features 174 available episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts.

#10 SiriusXM – The Pat McAfee Show 2.0

McAfee started his media career with Barstool Sports in 2016 following his retirement from the NFL. He has since moved from there to ESPN, and now to SiriusXM, where he has a daily three-hour show, repurposed as a podcast.

McAfee’s most listened-to recent interview was most likely last December when frequent guest Aaron Rodgers, talked about his decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID, and argued that despite being fined for violating NFL protocol, he’d done nothing to endanger anyone.

As we write, The Pat McAfee Show 2.0 features 600 available episodes and a listener rating of 4.9 stars on Apple Podcasts.

Where To Begin

Looking at this roundup, you’re probably feeling inspired to find your own place in this wide-open field.

As a brand, you already have huge built-in advantages that would allow you to quickly chart a podcast.

  • A large built-in audience

  • A marketing machine behind you

  • Bigger budgets and ready access to athletes and sports personalities

There is no reason to think that brands couldn’t reimagine a campaign for podcasts in the manner they have for radio, social media or TV. Think Mars Blackmon or “Bo Knows”. Just because the podcast terrain is virtually untouched doesn’t mean there isn’t a brand out there waiting to be the first to break ground and set the expectations and the rules of the road for a new medium.

We strongly encourage brands to be seen as current and relevant by wading into the vital conversations that the athletes they contract as ambassadors have already given voice to.

Whenever national discussion revolves around topics like war, race, civil rights, gender equity and equality, pay equity or poverty, athletes have been at the forefront.  By making use of the platforms they have, as world-famous superstar athletes, men and women like Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe and LeBron James, propelled America, willingly or not, on the path toward progress.

Sports reflect society back to us and provide deeper insight into the United States, spanning the spectrum from the truly incredible to the absolutely awful. Sports is politics. Politics is sports. The passion and power of these conversations, the urgency and relevance – these are things we think brands can and should play a role in facilitating.

We’re looking for a partner to bring these stories of athlete activism to life through the podcast, Unbroken and Unbowed, as one example of an entry point. If you’re interested in getting out ahead of your competitors and being that partner, please contact Paul Stewart for more details.