One of my favorite podcast moments of all time was this past year, after Kevin Durant made a few digs at CJ McCollum and Portland’s playoff hurdles on CJ’s own podcast, Pull Up. McCollum clapped back afterward, sparking one of my favorite tweets by Durant with “I just did your fucking podcast.” Legendary.
Podcasts have gone from being hosted by your neighbor in their basement to being hosted by celebrities, investigative reporters, writers, and athletes like McCollum, among others. It’s an open platform for virtually anyone to have your voice heard on any topic. That’s the best and also, well, the worst part of them. And there’s a lot of bad material to sift through to find content that’s actually decent. Those podcasts that are decent are being monetized, gaining followers, and are believed in by investors. It’s turned in to a full-fledged business. But how?
One podcasting platform overcoming quite a few hurdles so far is Blue Wire. This startup is making its mark nationally for its local flair with their multi-city sports podcast format currently covering nine markets and 18 podcasts to date – and growing.
Blue Wire was founded by Kevin Jones, a D.C. native who got his start as a local CBS sports producer. He spent a few years with the Cleveland Browns and eventually landed with KNBR covering the Golden State Warriors, bringing him to the Bay Area. After starting his own podcast, he felt that the legacy local sports media organizations have too much bureaucracy and lack innovation. Trying to shift to the younger demographic as traditional radio stations in most markets don’t always cater to that younger generation, and the national sports podcast networks stick to well, national sports, he wanted to bridge the gap.
And let’s be honest: young broadcasters usually don’t get their chance until the legendary local radio or television host retires or leaves. The local media circuit is not just opening doors and giving chances to young talent to be showcased. Sure, everyone should pay their dues, but to what extent? I interned at a sports station in college in a top 25 market. To leave and head to a market significantly lower wasn’t a feasible option to me. What’s changed now is the social landscape of the sports world, and platforms like podcasts lend voices and opportunities to the next young talent, benefiting from their extensive social media following they’ve built, perhaps on their knowledge of the NBA salary cap as an example. Blue Wire is capitalizing on this idea. “We’re trying to unify sports influencers,” Jones said.
I’d like to think of Blue Wire as The Athletic of podcasts, but free and with a pop culture twist. The concept of taking individual markets and combining them under one umbrella to satisfy the local and national taste of a fan isn’t easy to do. Blue Wire has added established and upcoming broadcasters, former professional athletes, and beat writers to a platform in an attempt to showcase their talent across the world with few restrictions. That’s something traditional media can’t do.
Currently self-funded but seeking seed options this summer, Blue Wire has already made a decent mark since its launch in September of 2018. They have downloads increasing 25% month after month and have cracked the top 100 podcast charts on iTunes with two different shows: The Rebuild with Jordan Zirm and Coffee House Stunt with Ted Nguyen. To date, they have podcasts in Green Bay, Cleveland, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Charlotte, and Salt Lake City. Currently, there are 25 podcasters contracted with a robust support staff.
The content ranges from LeBron James’ every move in LA (he even shared Blue Wire’s Laker Film Room podcast on his Twitter) to covering all on and off the field moves of the San Francisco 49ers. Notable guests featured across all the shows have included the likes of Derek Carr, Andre Ward Jr., and Maurice-Jones Drew. And while the majority of the content does focus specifically on one sports team, four of them are unique. “I want to have at least 10 percent of our podcasts to be unique so we have places to push local audiences after they’re done catching up on their favorite team,” Jones said.
Another revenue-generating stream Blue Wire has tapped in to is merchandising. Other local cities have capitalized on this line of business to cater to the hardcore, socially engaged local sports fan by creating innovative and news-relevant merchandise. Remember the “Money Manziel” t-shirts? The local clothing companies couldn’t keep them in stock. (And don’t think I didn’t order “I just did your fuckin’ podcast” shirt online myself).
It’s not easy to launch a startup, especially in today’s sports media landscape. Few have made it and succeeded. The Bill Simmons Podcast is the lead example Jones has emulated in hopes of taking Blue Wire to the next level. The only other major player in the game is the Locked On Podcast Network, founded by David Locke, the radio voice of the Utah Jazz, now with more than 90 localized podcasts covering the NFL, MLB, NBA, and major college sports teams. So how does Blue Wire differentiate themselves in this landscape? Quality over quantity, and social media. They have set high standards for their on-air talent outside of just the resume, evaluating social media presence by his or her following and monthly impressions. After all, Blue Wire is averaging over 50 million combined Twitter impressions a month.
So, what’s next? A multi-year major video game deal is on the horizon, along with expansion in to three more cities next month. “The goal is to load up each city with 3-7 podcasts,” Jones said. Each city will also have an iTunes channel where the latest content will be populated. The advertising sales strategy, handled by Crossover Media Group, is a unique one as well. The podcasts aren’t being sold as separate units to potential advertisers. They are being sold as one package. Think of it as the new cable bundle. For instance, VH1 couldn’t stand on its own without the whole backing of Viacom.
While still in the early stages, Blue Wire has shown serious progress by building a national sports podcasting network tailored locally to each city. It’s new, innovative, creative, and different. “I believe in this, I really do,” Jones said. Let’s hope it’s here for the long haul.