Shannon Sharpe

The podcast industry has no single, established awards body, but the iHeartRadio Podcast Awards are as close as it gets. So perhaps Club Shay Shay winning best sports podcast is meager recognition for an already-massive show. But as host Shannon Sharpe continues to build an empire around Shay Shay Media since leaving Undisputed, the most fascinating aspect of Club Shay Shay’s win is that it may have already grown beyond the confines of sports podcasting.

Sharpe’s first handful of guests on the show three years ago included Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and JB Smoove. But the conversation played out in the familiar territory of sports, and most guests were current and former NFL and NBA athletes. Since the start of 2024, the only guest from the sports world is infamous former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel. Today, Club Shay Shay is a bona fide crossover hit, as illustrated by Sharpe hosting Katt Williams in the winter for one of the buzziest interviews of last year anywhere in media.

Discussing his win at the iHeartRadio awards this week, Sharpe explained on his daily sports podcast Nightcap why he believes he has grown a massive, loyal audience on Club Shay Shay.

“We get to talk about whatever we want to talk about, as long as we want to talk about it,” Sharpe said. “I think that’s what our audience loves about us … they get to hear us talk about what they’re talking about, but they get to hear it from our perspectives.”

That thesis statement is truly the original mission of podcasts. But few are able to put out a show that accomplishes those goals in a way that is entertaining and loose enough to earn millions of weekly viewers. Today, Club Shay Shay feels well on its way to being a crossover mainstay.

After the Williams interview turned nasty toward some of Williams’ targets, Sharpe emphasized in numerous comments online that he is not a journalist.

“I’m an entertainer,” Sharpe said of the interview, which he would later claim made him more than $6 million. “If you want hard-hitting questions, 60 Minutes is the platform for you … go to somebody who does that.”

No, Sharpe is a conversationalist, and a fantastic interviewer, and a true podcaster.

From The Joe Rogan Experience to WTF with Marc Maron to Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert, many of the earliest and biggest podcasts bring exactly the loose, meandering tone Sharpe is striving for with Club Shay Shay. He may have started with sports and been honored by the podcast gatekeepers as our preeminent sports podder, but Sharpe has the sensibilities of the biggest hosts in media. He is well on his way to superseding the world of sports completely.

Sharpe has a head start on the numerous sports media personalities trying to branch out right now. His First Take teammate Stephen A. Smith has made no secret of his hope to turn The Stephen A. Smith Show into a talk show from a sports perspective, not purely a sports podcast. Ryan Clark recently went to battle with ESPN over his ability to keep building The Pivot into a uniquely intimate sports interview space. It’s anyone’s guess how New Heights will evolve as Jason Kelce enters retirement and Travis Kelce continues his high-profile romance with the world’s biggest pop artist. Rather than pick through the same athletes and coaches on media tours promoting their new book, media project or endorsement deal, Sharpe is thinking bigger.

Club Shay Shay is also unique in the universe within which Sharpe has centered it. Hailing from rural Georgia and coming up through the HBCU Savannah State, Sharpe has turned Club Shay Shay into a factory for broad, honest conversations with many of the biggest Black celebrities of all time. Their respect for him is just as clear as his admiration for them, with everyone from comedian and actress Mo’Nique to record executive Steve Stoute lashing out at Skip Bayless on Sharpe’s behalf. The giddiness a right-wing free thinker has when they sit down in the JRE studio or when a high-minded actor joins Maron in the WTF garage is evident when Black icons join Club Shay Shay.

The floodgates are open on sports hosts moving beyond sports. Because sports is one of the only spectacles that brings in the masses these days, sports commentators maintain broader relevance and audience loyalty than once-revered personalities like the late-night host, news anchor or public intellectual. That phenomenon, coupled with a less-strict enforcement of exclusivity by major media networks and corporations, means Sharpe and his contemporaries can float between corporate media and their own projects. More than ever, they are the brand, not the Fox shield or ESPN pantone red.

Because of Sharpe’s head start (see: his more than 2 million YouTube subscribers and partnership with The Volume, which is reportedly valued near half a billion dollars), Club Shay Shay is the show to watch as the industry evolves. Sharpe has been not-so-subtly hinted at as a potential successor to Smith on First Take, but it’s worth asking whether Sharpe would want or need that show in his late 50s, with a budding empire of his own.

Still, even Rogan still does stand-up, owns a comedy venue, and broadcasts MMA. Maron tours the country constantly as a stand-up himself and continues to take on bigger acting roles. For that matter, Oprah Winfrey started a magazine, a cable channel, and was nominated for an Oscar. Either due to capitalistic yearning for more or perhaps the understanding that television and live acts still give performers a greater profile than digital media, these stars of the conversation show medium tell us Sharpe probably will not settle for interviewing Manziel and talking smack with Chad Johnson as his only gigs, even if they pay the bills.

But by taking Club Shay Shay from an athlete interview show to a headline-making, generalist hangout so quickly that even iHeartRadio award voters could get tricked out, Sharpe has set the stage for whatever he may well want to do. Wherever he takes his career from here, Sharpe will likely take the industry with him as the pace car in the race to shoot beyond sports.

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.