There have been an interesting number of sports podcasts doing live shows over the past few years, including The Shutdown Fullcast, Men In Blazers, and, quite recently, Travis and Jason Kelce’s New Heights around this year’s NFL Draft. The latest one to take their show on the road is House of Highlights NBA podcast Through The Wire.
Through The Wire has been with WBD Sports’ House of Highlights for nearly five years now, and they’re set for their first standalone live show in Philadelphia Friday. That’s part of a larger tour they’re conducting over the next few months, with some of the further stops (Miami, Toronto, Las Vegas (during Summer League), and next season’s NBA Tip-Off) tied into the NBA on TNT American Express Road Show. Ahead of Friday’s (sold-out) tour stop in Philadelphia, HoH GM Drew Muller and TTW’s Pierre Andresen (one of the show’s four hosts alongside Kenny Beecham, Mike Heard, and Darrick Miller, all seen above in a 2018 episode) spoke to AA via email on how the podcast’s relationship with HoH has gone, and why this tour was the right fit for them.
To start with, Muller said the pitch he and HoH received from Beecham around the then-nascent and independent TTW in 2018 stood out from the “hundreds” they were getting at that time thanks to their persistence and chemistry. On the persistence front, he said the HoH team was impressed not just that TTW kept making content regularly, but that they showed a passion for improving.
“It is extremely hard to put your head down and crank out hour-long episodes, week after week. The rare creators that can do it demonstrate a real resilience and belief in themselves that jumps off the screen. It also comes across in the content, as they continuously refined the smallest details about how they interacted, debated and structured their shows.”
On the chemistry front, Muller said the hosts’ friendship (which dates back to their childhoods) helped them stand out in a crowded space.
“Their chemistry was immediately evident when watching their episodes. There’s just something innate to the dialogue that childhood friends have that feels so natural and relatable, especially when compared to a group of traditional hosts who don’t have that authentic relationship and dynamic. The way their roles as friends and inside jokes bleed into the show made them special and makes their banter super relatable for young fans. And that’s exactly what we try to do at HoH in maintaining a young, authentic voice that speaks ‘with’ you, not ‘at you.’ TTW are exactly that.”
Andresen said TTW needed that level of support to stand out in a crowded space.
“Initially in 2017 when my co-host Kenny, who’s also my cousin, reached out to House of Highlights, we were new, so we were eager, and we were looking for anyone who would believe in us and give us that stamp of approval or validation. Because when you’re new and when you’re trying to enter these industries, it’s important to have that backing.”
“When someone who’s significant already in that field goes out of their way to say ‘We believe in you, we see the vision, and we’re behind you,’ it gives you a second wind, a newfound confidence to go extra harder. Without that, you just kind of exist with all the podcasts that are looking to find their way. But once you get that co-sign, whether it’s in sports or media, when you get a co-sign from someone who’s significant, it gives you that breath of fresh air, of ‘Okay, we’re here, we can do this, and this can become something.'”
He said HOH’s status as a disruptive company was also an appeal for them.
“And I think that was important for us, and it’s always important for anybody that’s new in any industry. And I think it was perfect for us, because both of us, House of Highlights and our brand, we were trying to do the same thing at the same time. They were a new sports media company trying to solidify themselves with all of the juggernauts surrounding them.”
“And we were doing the same thing; as a newly-founded podcast, we were trying to cement ourselves with top dogs in the game, and find a way to say ‘We’re here, how do we put ourselves up against these big names, and show that we are worth the attention they get as well?’ And I think that that was a perfect marriage at the time, and it worked out perfectly, because we had the same type of hunger, tenacity, and eagerness to go out there and put the work in. And that’s how we both found ourselves in the positions that we are today.”
HoH initially brought TTW in on a three-month trial, which then turned into longer-term contracts. Muller said the jump the TTW hosts made after joining HoH was impressive.
“They have truly refined their craft as NBA analysts and found their voices. The amount of ‘homework’ and preparation they do before episodes leveled-up month after month and really shows in their episodes. They’ve also evolved beyond the podcast into doing ‘vlog’-style content bringing fans into their daily lives, as well as short-form sports debate content that has made them one of the most popular sports pod channels on YouTube and TikTok. Lastly, their prowess interviewing huge names in the space has grown remarkably.”
Andresen said the overlapping goals of TTW and HOH have made that a good fit.
“I think having the same common goals put us in a family-oriented feel as an entire team, because we were trying to cement ourselves, we had chips on our shoulder, things to prove,” he said. “When you have that type of energy within your team, you have this family type of feel and this bond. And over the years, you can see it growing, and you can see the relationships between different people and the company.”
Muller said it was an easy decision to extend the TTW hosts after that trial given not just their growth, but the way the existing HoH audience embraced them.
“The combination of their commitment to the content grind and the immediate resonance that their content had on HoH channels were the main factors that encouraged us to extend them beyond that initial trial. HoH’s young audience immediately resonated with the TTW crew’s NBA analysis, and their relatable and fun tone fit perfectly with HoH’s voice on social.”
He said it also was critical that they were good fits with the HoH team.
“Most importantly, Kenny, Mike, Darrick and Pierre immediately fit into the culture of the HoH team and had amazing personalities that people just wanted to be around. House of Highlights’ challenger mindset aligned perfectly with TTW’s—we were both disrupter brands trying to build something special within a crowded area of sports media that was dominated by legacy players.”
Andresen said there were some challenges around the remote work setups brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the loosening of restrictions there and the return to more in-person engagement has helped.
“As we ease back into normal society and being able to do the team stuff and being around each other more frequently, I think it creates those bonds again, and it reminds you of the family-oriented feel.”
Most of HoH’s content is shortform, and the TTW group does some of that as well, but Muller said their main, longer podcast hits on enough other levels that it has good engagement with the HoH audience.
“While most of House of Highlights’ content is short and snackable, TTW is truly differentiated in being able to have their fans spend over 30 minutes on average consuming their episodes, and it creates a very unique opportunity to build stickiness with deeply engaged fans.”
Muller said the TTW group has become key to HoH’s approach to the NBA.
“They have become HoH’s ‘voice’ in the NBA space and embody exactly what makes House of Highlights unique relative to almost every other ‘sports media’ player out there. They are a core part of HoH’s mission to build creator-led IP that the next generation of sports fans crave, on the platforms they spend their time on.”
Andresen said the TTW cast stands out because of their atypical backgrounds.
“I think Through The Wire is so groundbreaking. You talk about four young dudes creating something out of nothing, no college degrees in journalism, no connections, no one had a rich dad or a rich uncle who invested $2 million into us or anything like that. For us to be able to do what we’re doing our way and being ourselves, I think it’s about time we get attention. It’s important for people to see exactly what Through The Wire is and what it’s about. And it’s important for the culture for people to be able to see that you can do something like this, you can come together and create something special and create something groundbreaking. And I think that the attention we’ve been able to give our community is the best part of it all.”
Muller said the way the TTW podcast has taken off made this the perfect time to launch the live show.
“The momentum behind the podcast has never been stronger. They’ve experienced the biggest growth spurt in their history so far in 2023, and their fans have been craving live shows for a long time. They have a deeply dedicated fanbase that has grown attached to them behind the screen for years, and the ability to translate that into an IRL experience for fans will be incredible. TTW constantly receive comments and DMs from fans begging them to do a show in their city, and when we did voting polls on their YouTube and Instagram channels to find the most popular cities, Philly quickly rose to the top, in addition to a handful of other US cities which will be stops later this year.”
This comes on the heels of a TTW presence at the NBA on TNT American Express Road Show in San Francisco in October, where the TTW cast recorded a live 60-minute episode of their podcast. They’ve also done some live shows in the past around TNT’s All-Star coverage. And they’ll have further stops within that Road Show framework in the coming months. Muller said that’s a beneficial way to tie the digital side of WBD’s NBA coverage at HOH and TTW in with TNT’s linear NBA coverage.
“We had a lot of success activating TTW within the TNT NBA Roadshow footprint in San Francisco in 2022 and believe this is the perfect opportunity to take it to the next level. TNT’s NBA Roadshow events consistently bring out NBA die-hard fans from every city and create a fun, interactive environment before the most exciting moments of the NBA season, and that’s exactly what TTW fans crave. It’s a perfect fit.”
While those linear and digital coverage models are quite different, Muller said there’s overlap, with fans consuming both of them.
“We think there are tons of strong synergies between the NBA audiences we serve on linear and digital/social, and that is what makes WBD Sports’ value proposition to the leagues so incredibly unique and powerful. WBD Sports serves every fan on the spectrum across TNT, B/R and House of Highlights. TNT’s NBA Roadshow gives TTW an amazing platform to solidify themselves as preeminent NBA hosts in the space.”
And he thinks the tours and in-person events will be a key part of TTW going forward.
“I see this continuing to be a core part of Through The Wire’s content plans into the future and a consistent touchpoint for them to interact with existing fans and grow new fandom across the US. They’ve had real success with live shows in the past at NBA All-Star, and the in-person experience is electric. We have best-in-class production, social promotion and experiential resources internally at HoH that are making these shows come to life behind the scenes.”
Andresen said the live shows are vital to what TTW is trying to do, and they’re connect with a community that’s deeply engaged with the hosts, from checking in on them during illness to delivering donuts they spotlighted.
“These live shows are important because our fanbase means everything to us. Our fanbase is crazy, our community is one of the most loyal and dedicated communities that is out there. We have such a loyal fanbase; they love us outside the podcast. …When you have a fanbase and a community that’s that loyal, you have to pay them back in this type of way.”
Muller said he thinks this is a step that will help TTW gain even more prominence.
“We’re extremely excited to get the tour kicked off and see how big we can make this thing. Through The Wire has truly become the pre-eminent NBA podcast for under-34 fans in the US, and we think live shows like this will make them even more accessible and relatable to the young audience they serve. TTW has a unique ability to do something like this when compared to others in the space, as they are ‘real’ fans–genuine NBA fans that grew up with the same background as most of their fans, watching NBA games in their bedroom and starting a podcast in one of their friend’s houses–and it allows for authentic relationships with their fans that stands out. Fans are going to come to actually talk and interact with their favorite podcasters. They aren’t former players, or traditional media personalities–they’re real fans themselves, and I think that’s going to really stand out and start to build momentum as we venture to more and more cities throughout the year.”
Andresen said he thinks the show can continue to grow, even though they’ve already hit so many milestones.
“I see Through The Wire going into the unknown,” he said. “When we first started, we had big dreams and big aspirations. But I don’t think we fully could view or picture what it would like to be here. I don’t think when I pictured us being a highly successful podcast, I don’t think I pictured us going on tour, or signing autographs, or being around players, or having our own successful shows within the podcast, having the success that we’ve had. …At this level, I can’t say I’ve seen this coming at this magnitude. And because of that, I’m very reluctant to put a ceiling on us.”
[Image via Through The Wire on YouTube]