Oh, for the love of pods

The world of football podcasting has taken great strides in a continuously evolving digital media landscape. Courtesy of technological advances, a previously rendered “extinct” concept rose to prominence in 2013 and has been gaining momentum ever since its breakthrough into the mainstream. But what is it we love so much about people huddled around microphones conveying their views on the game we all know and love? Jack West investigates

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past half a decade, you’ll realise there’s a revolution firmly underway. In a world where the coronavirus plague is captivating modern society, the real epidemic here is podcast fever. As of 2019, around 7.1 million in the UK listen to podcasts each week. That’s 14.2 million pairs of ears, and roughly one eighth of the British population. The same wave of Ofcom research concluded that half of these listeners have climbed aboard the podcast bandwagon within the last two years.

The format is straight forward. The word podcast was added to the dictionary in 2004 upon its creation. It is an audio file similar to a radio broadcast, that can be downloaded and listened to on a computer or MP3 player. Now this doesn’t tell the full story – in simpler terms, it’s taking over and encapsulating the way in which we as society are consuming media.

This meteoric rise of the football podcasting world on an amateur scale has seen it branch into the sports media industry. Networks such as Sky Sports and gambling affiliates including Paddy Power all offer an array of podcasts to fill your boots, all of which are hosted by highly credible anchors accompanied by a panel of former athletes in their respective sport.

Others have made their name in the land of the podcast. The beauty of the emergence from an informal medium is that a lot of the long running content is produced by companies or individuals that have no affiliation to the world of broadcasting.

Kait Borsay has experienced both sides of this coin. She had been playfully complaining to me that her husband had just impulsively purchased a new swimming pool to get the family through lockdown.

After stints at Sky Sports and TalkRadio, she is now one third of the all-female presenting team on the Offside Rule podcast – with Hayley McQueen and Lynsey Hooper. The trio were responsible for breaking the mould in a male-dominated medium and are now one of the most successfully recognised podcast brands in the UK.

But why has football podcasting become so popular? “Football is tribal,” says Borsay, “it’s so important to people’s communities.”

“When we watch a game of football, we all watch the same thing but digest it in a different way.”

“Whether a football podcast is telling you something new about what you’ve been watching, or giving you opinions that you may agree or disagree with, it’s about engaging fans and continuing the football conversation beyond the 3pm kick off on a Saturday afternoon.”

The ease of access that follows a podcast is without doubt at the forefront of its success. The simplicity delivered by a medium where people are able to listen at any time of the day – whether that be on the commute to/from work, in bed, or cleaning the house; this strategy enhances listening figures courtesy of the audience being in control of when they listen. The cultural trend currently circulating the media landscape is that the audience are in charge. The days are gone where we must navigate our lives around broadcast journalism. In a society where people are easily offended, individuals only wish to surround themselves with content that makes them feel safe and invokes enjoyment.

Some podcasts are incredibly insightful, professional and packed with topical discussion and analysis. Others may hone in on the volatile world of sport by comedically exploiting the many trials and tribulations in an informal manner.  The beauty is the mere diversity, and consumers can jam pack their pod library with enough soccer-based natter to quench their thirst. You can wholeheartedly flaunt your personality by compiling a podcast mecca that curates to your needs – there is no surprise it’s becoming a natural cornerstone to our football lives.

“Anyone can do it,” said Borsay. “It doesn’t matter what restrictions you have in your life. Maybe you work full time or have a disability. A lot of those reasons are ideal motivations to start a podcast, and complimentary to the success of podcasts. You can listen to them anywhere and you can record them anywhere. It’s incredibly easy.”

Podcasts are also free to publish and produce. Yes, do not scratch your eyes, no fixed fee subscription is required to have your eardrums stimulated, and wholeheartedly proves that there is a hunger amongst the footballing consumer populous for football-based chit-chat and intellectual discussion. For the 2019/20 season, a Sky and BT Sport joint subscription package can set you back up to £48 a month. Not only this, but they latch you onto long term, fixed fee contracts.

BT Sport had its “best” ever Premier League season in according to viewing figures in 2018/19. This saw its largest UK live audience for a Premier League match, when a mere 1.7 million watched Liverpool v Arsenal. Their paywall rivals at Sky didn’t fare much better with their coverage of the Premier League, as they attracted just 16 audiences in excess of two million viewers, out of 128 live, televised matches. In a country with a population of around 66 million people at the time, the numbers suggest that mainstream corporations are struggling to keep their audience for post-match thoughts and analysis after the full-time whistle blows.

However, where there’s a consumer, there is still an opportunity to generate revenue. Advertising is at the forefront of the podcast movement and with a flurry of niche and sub-genres presented by podcasting, it creates an easy algorithm for geo-targeted audio ads. Acast, the world’s largest podcast network released a 2018 study alluding to the success of targeted advertising.

Daniel Lowney, management director at Sixteenth talent agency, has a plethora of experience in this field. He alludes to the trance we are put under by a podcast and their advertising clientele. “The consumption experience of podcasts is often very intimate, with many listeners using in-ear headphones. The creator is quite literally in our heads and they have our deep attention and interest. All of this makes it a very appealing advertising product for brands.”

According to the study, 76 percent of listeners interact with podcast ads, whether that be making a purchase, visiting the advertiser’s website or subscribing to a service on offer. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PriceWaterhouse predicted that ad revenue is expected to reach $679 million this year, increasing to $863 million in 2020 and over $1 billion by 2021. Popular podcasts can charge advertisers between $10 to $50 for every 1,000 listeners, approximately two or three times the ad rate for broadcast radio.

But what is it like on the other side of the audio world? Well, it appears sports radio stations have latched onto the podcast bandwagon. This includes the likes of TalkSport and BBC Radio 5Live, who have started churning out their own content in podcast format.

Clive Tyldesley is a household name, for football fans anyway. After a highly successful career in television and radio broadcasting, Clive has undoubtedly one of the most recognisable and iconic voices in sport – responsible for applying his enthusiastic equilibrium to some of the jaw dropping moments football has gifted us over the decades.

Having been around the block and back of broadcast street, Tyldesley lead the praise and upspeak for the personal, close-hearted feel beaming off the contemporary audio reflection – sighting it as one of the primary reasons for its popularity: “Radio and podcasting play a part in being something you can rely on. People that you can come to know; whether it’s Hawksbee and Jacob or Tony Lipsy. It can be a very reassuring tool in that sense, building up a relationship with a listener that commands a certain amount of loyalty.”

You’re hearing people like Peter Crouch in a different light than you would see from them on television. It’s almost as if a podcast can wipe away the professional element of the media industry, peeling back the layers of this non-televisual onion. It’s the fear of the unknown. Once people listen and love them, they are more likely to try others. “There’s a nice mix of information, opinion and entertainment,” replied Tyldesley.

“If you can strike up the right balance and have the right blend of people involved, then it comes back to that feeling of friends. The kind of person you could go for a pint with or have a coffee with. That’s the magic of audio,” is the summary that Tyldesley so elegantly closed on, insinuating that we’ve all got a friend in a good podcast.

The only downside to the podcast revolution is the mere saturation of the industry. 15 years ago, Apple provided a podcast service offering a little over 3,000 free to listen pods on iTunes.

“If you’re launching a football podcast now, you’ve got to have something a little bit different. Unless you’re a big or recognisable brand and people instantly see you because they know and see your brand, or have an interest in what you do.” Having been a part of a pod that provide the acquired diversity to stand out on the platform, Borsay provided the perfect antidote for sticking out like a sore thumb on the media podium.

Right now, it is estimated that a staggering 850,000 podcasts are engrossed within the e-media market, it’s to no avail that the vast majority of these audio creations can slide under the cracks and never surface to see the light of day. Although it creates a problem for pod producers, it provides the solution for the bulk of society, by presenting you with the opportunity to discover your niche.

Podcasts themselves are niche. People in the UK spend just under 26 hours a week with the wonderful gift of audio. Podcasting accounts for a mere seven percent of the UK audio consumption within an average week, making up two percent share of audio time. Listeners of podcasts spend over 6 hours a week with them, whilst 91% of their listening being to speech-based content.

That information was taken in 2015, but it demonstrates just how far this has come in its recent fruition. Jump forward five years, the constantly moving wheels upon the podcast express are in full motion and don’t appear to be derailing anytime soon.

Borsay continued talking to me, indicating that it’s essential to stand out from the crowd in today’s podcasting spectrum: “I think people now need to think about being original,” she said.

“Rather than just four men or four women sitting there talking about football stories. From the Football Ramble through to Football Daily at the BBC, you’re up against so many big players and you need to think about how you’re going to make yourself presentable within the market.”

I think that just like football, the world around us, the way in which human beings consume media is constantly evolving. Sometimes less is more, and whilst our hands and feet are occupied, a podcast on the beautiful game is the perfect formula. The illusion that you require a hefty budget and corporate backing to succeed is a mere cliché. All you need is a sound recorder with access to the internet, and you possess the power to have your views heard by the masses.

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