Podcasts, for those who don’t know, are digital files made available for free internet listening via computer or portable media player. They range from new era sports talk radio all the way to pseudo-lectures and lessons on educational topics, and there is a podcast for just about every style. Comedians, authors, and even professional athletes use podcasts as a way to both grow their brand and connect more intimately with their audience.
Some important facts about podcasts (via convinceandconvert.com)
- Podcast listening grew 23% between 2015 and 2016.
- The same number of Americans listen to podcasts and use Twitter (57 million Americans, or 21% of us all over the age of 12)
- Listeners of podcast consume 5 shows per week on average
In this new generation of Twitter and borderline unhealthy social binging, athletes have become more human, and considerably less idol. You can see what your favorite shooting guard had for lunch, read an emotionally raw tweet from the guy who just lost at the buzzer, and see Instagram photos of teams after games from the locker room. I wrote about this when Paul George got injured at the Olympic scrimmage, that you feel a deeper level of sympathy for an athlete because you know more about them off the field. You don’t see a timetable for a return from injury anymore, you now see the player post-surgery, and during the grueling training that comes alongside getting back on the court.
The podcast wave, in much the same manner, is shining a new and more personal light on the men and women who cover sports. Everyone who reads a lot of sport stories develops a liking and a disliking for certain writers, as is natural. For me, it was Brian Phillips at Grantland, and I liked him enough to follow after him in hopes of an autograph the day Grantland closed down. If he had a podcast, it would surely be one I listen to each and every day.
But, why? Why would I do that?
I want to focus more on the sports media, and how podcasts have developed a new wrinkle into the way the common fan consumes its media. As a podcast listener myself, I started to question my own personal desire, and why I enjoy these so much. I consume everything from Bill Simmons and Channel 33, to Woj and JJ Reddick with the Vertical on Yahoo, to Barstool Sports and their conversational style. Professional podcasts, made-at-home shows, it doesn’t matter to me. I like them all.
You see, they feel at some points (or at least the good ones do) like you are getting the chance to listen into the casual and unscripted conversations that take place between important figures. They humanize the athletes and the members of the media that any fan of sport consumes along various platforms. Simultaneously, they provide the listener with intelligent and witty takes on the issues and events happening in the present scope of the world.
Back even ten or fifteen years ago, sports media was covered in a professional style, meaning that it was written factually and provided you with an honest and unbiased form of knowledge about a contest or athlete. You were left to forge your own opinion on a story. That was how it was done, and is still used, more predominantly in print media today.
Now, with the shift towards online publications and blogs, conversational style writing has emerged as a more “fun” way of consuming the media. Writers use humor, personal story, and captivating detail from first person experience to make you feel a different way. People don’t want to think anymore, they want to laugh and they want to feel like they are a part of something.
This all culminates in the members of the media themselves almost becoming a subdivision of athletes, sitting as a go-between for completely casual fans and the actual athletes themselves. They both report about the athletes and write opinionated words on them, and are personalities in their own right who have articles written about them in return. They are a new second layer of athletic fame that did not exist before they were humanized. We did not know them, we knew of them, in the past. Now, I know where Tate Frazier went to college, what Barstool Big Cat’s shower habits are, and I know way more about Juliet Litman’s obsession with Chandler Parsons than I previously even wanted to (kidding give me ALL of that).
Podcasts fit nicely in this culture of sports media because for an extended amount of time, we hear the thought process that goes behind the words we see in print. It makes things more personal. The layer of fandom stretches even further down the chain, as we no longer obsess over the athletes themselves. In fact, I can argue that personally I have listened to more hours of NBA talk than actually watched NBA games.
Where am I even going with this? I guess nowhere, because trying to describe why people love Podcasts is so difficult in general. People, in general, are changing the way they take in the world of sports and that is no surprise. I had a professor tell me once in college, before I was due to give a presentation, that telling a personal story is going to keep your audience with you. People like hearing stories about things they know and can relate to. In the case of podcasts, this is essentially the same thing. No one would want to listen to a guy read off the general statistics and box score from a game. We can do that on our own. Instead, give me someone who was there that wants to tell me how LeBron James sulked around in between time-outs. That is something I would not previously know. Give me J.J. Reddick talking to Jared Dudley about the ACC battles they used to have. That, to me at least, is an awesome way to get to know the people you watch and read.
Essentially, the point is that Podcasts are just another way for people to feel a part of the world of sports. As sport grows in America (it does every single day), so too will the media. As the media snuggles into this void between athletes and consumers, just know that they want to bring you along on the ride.
So, thank you to those who share stories. Thank you Bill Simmons for your short speech on Garry Shandling that inspired this rant this morning. I don’t believe that you just needed a glass of water. In fact, I hope you didn’t need that glass of water, because knowing that little bit about you is why we all listen to Podcasts in the first place. You have become part of the story, not someone reporting on it. A second-level superstar, in the absolute nicest way possible.
Next time you, reader of this, listens to a podcast, stop and think about the emotion and feeling you have as you do so. Ask yourself, “Why do I enjoy this?”
I know why I do.
By MikeyFOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD