Should brands take a closer look at soccer podcasting?

Several media industry experts are predicting that 2016 could be the year of the podcast.  Evolving technology and consumer behavior is driving new demand for the audio medium. If you are a brand trying to reach the soccer consumer it might be time to take another look at the world of podcasting.

“Something I have my eye on for 2016 is whether the podcast medium will take another step forward, particularly for those using sports as content. The demographics for the medium are young, with major growth, and the barriers for entry are very small. Id expect major and minor media companies to expand their content, including video podcasts, and for podcasts to be an even bigger part of a sports fan’s daily diet come the end of 2016.” – Sports illustrated writer, Richard Deitsch

In the mid-2000’s mainstream sports talk stations largely ignored soccer leaving fans desperate for hot stove soccer news and talk. Then along came the podcast. Soccer’s young tech forward audience was comfortable as early adopters of the technology and many soccer fans were quick on sign up for their dose of soccer podcasts.  In fact, in 2007, Steve Cohen’s World Soccer Daily podcast was the #4 most downloaded podcast in the entire U.S.  Quite impressive.

But after a rapid initial period of growth (2005/06) podcast adoption across the entire industry slowed down significantly.  The appeal to the core user remained very real, but broad scale utilization was hard to find.  Similarly, on the ad revenue side of the house, podcasters found it difficult to engage media buyers in a medium that had less than scientific metrics when compared to more “traditional” media forms.   But that was then and this is now.  Podcasting grew significantly in 2015 and a rosy future lies ahead for the industry.

As a global sport there are literally hundreds of soccer podcasts on the market.  Some are backed by major media companies and hosted by “name” talent.  Others are more grassroots; started by passionate and engaging fans that have built their own following from literally nothing.  One approach is not necessarily “better” than the other – and both have examples of successful podcasts.

A quick look at the top 10 podcasts in the U.S provides an interesting snapshot.  Of the 10 shows 5 are associated with a major media partner and 5 are independent.  It’s also interesting to note that half of the shows originate from the U.S and half from the U.K.

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At GESM, we have been observing developments in the podcast industry quite keenly in recent times and wanted to share a couple of thoughts on why brands should take a closer look at this evolving medium.

1. A new world of opportunity

The days of podcasting being solely about downloadable content are now history. In 2016, the podcast moves beyond the iPod (for which this medium is named) and into a full suite of listening platforms. Snackable social media bites, owned blog and app integration, streaming radio and satellite radio, just to name a few. And it’s not just about form, it’s also about format. Today you’ll find podcasts that stretch the structural boundaries of this medium and test consumer interest with a variety of conversation styles, listener involvement, live studio audiences, rich media integration and much, much more.

2. Audience quality

Listeners to soccer podcasts are highly educated, affluent, influential and loyal…very loyal.  Chris Harris, Executive Producer of the World Soccer Talk podcast knows this better than most.  “We’ve been running the World Soccer Talk Podcast for 10 years and counting, which is the longest running soccer podcast on the planet. But even though we’ve made a lot of changes to the format in the past decade, many of the listeners who were with us in the beginning are still listening” he said.  Industry-wide stats also substantiate a similar insight with 88% of podcast listeners indicating they engage with most or all episodes.  One other interesting stat to note is that 61% of podcast listeners also report buying something they heard about on a podcast.

3. Authenticity

Authenticity – every soccer marketer’s favorite word.  Most brands (but unfortunately not all) understand the importance of building soccer authenticity into their marketing activities. When we look at the podcast world it’s clear that many listeners consider the show hosts as highly trusted and credible soccer personalities.  “Podcast listeners form strong connections with on air talent due to the relatively intimate nature of the medium” said Trevor Hayward, Executive Producer of Soccer Morning podcast.  This is a powerful insight and with some creative thinking a smart brand marketer can leverage this dynamic to create the authentic and memorable brand connection they crave.

4. Uncluttered landscape

FiveThirtyEight data reporter Hayley Munguia, spent two entire days last summer listening to the latest episode of every single podcast in the iTunes top 100.  One of the things she discovered was a very small total (186) of ads.  She further realized that more than a third of the shows had no ads, and the median number of ads in shows that did include advertising was just two.  We did our own independent analysis of the current Top 10 soccer podcasts and saw a similar picture: Just 6 advertisers Sam Adams, Landrover, Bet 365, Squarespace, Breville Kettles, and Guinness featured in the shows.  Numerous industry surveys further substantiate that podcast advertising is an under exploited media opportunity. Takeaway: There’s a white space here.

5. Opportunity Amplification

New technologies now enable podcasters to share small snacks of their podcasts across social media, significantly helping expand reach and access to content.  This is a huge benefit for the podcaster and also a smart advertiser.  The notion of quick burst branded audio content reminded us of a series developed by Alexi Lalas in 2013/14.  “The Shot presented by El Jimador Tequila” was a neatly produced two-minute quick shot of soccer and music updates.  Take this idea and fast forward to 2016.  With the distribution reach of social media we can see a content piece like Alexi’s being a perfect extension and ampfication of a longer form podcast.

Driving greater integration and amplification for advertisers is a key area of focus for World Soccer Talk heading into 2016. “For advertisers, we’re planning on rolling out packages that are more integrated in the future. Instead of just podcast advertising, they will also include promotion on the website as well as on social media, so it’s more of an immersive ad campaign across the World Soccer Talk properties.” said Executive Producer, Chris Harris.

Our summary recommendation to brand marketers: 

Soccer podcasts represent a niche play. But for the right brands it could be a very smart play.  If you can think beyond the pure numbers and envision an extended integration program, podcasting might be a unique way to set yourself apart and make that all important connection with influential members of the soccer community.

Categories: Featured, Major League Soccer, Men In Blazers, Podcasting, Soccer Marketing