Why this sports podcast network is looking to TikTok to find talent

Blue Wire is turning influencers into podcasters, a strategy it says is appealing to advertisers.
article cover

Blue Wire

· 5 min read

It’s common knowledge that anyone can start a podcast. Celebrities have certainly taken that to heart, with many finding success.

But now, as that well runs dry, podcast companies are looking elsewhere to recruit talent. Sports podcast network Blue Wire has recently started turning to TikTok, cherry-picking popular creators from the platform and either turning them into podcasters or acquiring their existing pods.

That strategy is helping Blue Wire build up its slate of original content, which now includes about 30 owned-and-operated shows (in addition to the approximately 200 pods it supports with tasks like ad sales).

Blue Wire’s focus on social media stars has not only boosted network downloads but also proven attractive to advertisers, founder and CEO Kevin Jones told Marketing Brew.

“We’re increasingly talking to audio buyers who want to buy YouTube as well, or social posts,” Jones told Marketing Brew. “We definitely try and package these things together and think that’s how we’re standing out against our competition, because we have access to a ton of different creators in all these markets.”

While that multi-platform strategy—selling social media ads in addition to purely podcast ones—is still in its early days, it’s helped Blue Wire reach $10 million in projected revenue for this year, about half of which has already been booked, according to Jones.

From influencer to podcaster

To land deals with the likes of Mountain Dew and other big brands, Blue Wire is fostering relationships with creators who are successful across platforms, Jones explained.

But make no mistake—Blue Wire is a podcast company, so the creators in its network need to be more than influencers. They also need to be great podcasters. That’s where Scott Reinen, Blue Wire’s head of content (and host of Blue Wire’s Yankees podcast, The Bronx Pinstripes Show), comes in.

Part of Reinen’s job is to identify talent to bring into the network, so technically, he’s allowed to scroll through his Twitter feed and call it work. That’s what he was doing when he came across Matt Sponhour, whose TikToks about sports regularly rack up thousands of views. Sponhour is now one of the hosts of Blue Wire’s sports podcast, Stay Hot.

Sponhour’s Twitter led Reinen to his TikTok page, and off the bat, Reinen said he noticed his “crazy level of engagement” on both platforms. Not only were people commenting on Sponhour’s content, but the comments were also fairly personal, referencing posts from weeks prior.

“These are the things that I look for to find that really deep entrenchment of an audience base that will become the ride-or-dies who will go across to YouTube, will go into audio, will buy their merch, will go to events,” Reinen said.

The other two hosts, Blaiden Kirk and Theo Ash, are friends of Sponhour. Sponhour told Reinen that they had all been talking about starting a podcast when Reinen got in touch. With Blue Wire’s production team behind them, the guys debuted Stay Hot last April and brought it to about 140,000 downloads per month in less than a year, Jones said, making it one of the most successful Blue Wire originals.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.

Since debuting, Stay Hot has partnered with advertisers including HelloFresh, Trade Coffee, and PrizePicks, according to the company.

After starting Stay Hot, Reinen discovered TikTok creators Justice Summerset and David Egbo, hosts of the pop culture, sex, and relationships podcast, Don’t Trip. The two now host Don’t Trip under the Blue Wire umbrella.

But it was Don’t Trip’s TikTok account, which now has more than 500,000 followers and 8.7 million likes, that Reinen said initially caught his eye, as with the Stay Hot crew.

“They’re natural content creators,” Reinen said. “They’re very organic and very natural when they’re talking to people, and when people engage with them, you can tell that there’s a level of familiarity or comfort.”

Audio + social

Blue Wire saw 60 million downloads across its network in 2021, the company said. That’s enough to generate revenue from ads, but those downloads alone won’t get Blue Wire across the $10 million mark this year. Not without the help of influencers, according to Jones.

One creator it recently collaborated with, for instance, is internet comedian Druski. Follower count: 85,000 on Twitch, 1 million on Twitter, 194,000 on YouTube, 3.2 million on TikTok, and 4 million on Instagram. Those are numbers Blue Wire can monetize, and it has.

Last year, the company inked a six-figure deal with Mountain Dew for a sponsored 10-episode podcast about basketball culture called The Dew Zone with Druski. Mountain Dew didn’t just pay for episodes; the deal also included social posts from Druski, reaching his millions of followers.

Blue Wire ran a similar campaign for Coors Light, which sponsored season 2 of American Prodigy, a podcast exploring the stories of a different young sports prodigy each season. In addition to its logo on the cover art and ads throughout each episode, Coors Light also got social posts from various Blue Wire podcast and creator accounts as part of the deal.

For sponsoring five episodes, the beer brand saw more than 7 million audio impressions and more than 4 million social impressions, according to Blue Wire.

Blue Wire saw 5 million downloads in 2019, 16 million in 2020, and 60 million in 2021, according to figures shared with Marketing Brew, and its revenue shot up from $100,000 to $4.8 million in that time. By the end of this year, Jones projects that downloads across its entire network will more than double year over year to 124 million in 2022.

While millennials represent a sizable number of regular podcast listeners, as companies like Blue Wire increasingly turn their focus to Gen Z’s favorite platforms and influencers, the medium as a whole could gain more traction with a younger crowd.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.