Why sports podcasts could be a slam dunk for advertisers who know how to navigate the in-demand space

The sports podcast genre is among the top-five most popular in the US, and its ad revenue is also on the rise.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

Sports seem inescapable at almost any time of year, but unfortunately for some die-hard fans, most leagues don’t actually play year-round. So—just like TV fanatics—sports lovers can still listen to podcasts once a season wraps.

The sports podcast genre is among the top five most popular in the US, according to Edison Research, and the percentage share of ad revenue for that category more than doubled from 2020 to 2021, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

While advertisers can certainly reach fans during games, podcasts focusing on sports news, analysis, trades, speculation, recaps, player interviews, and more can provide an alternative outlet for them to reach engaged audiences throughout the year.

Off to the races

Audio ad buyers told Marketing Brew that sports is one of the most in-demand podcast genres.

Steven Abraham, president of Oxford Road, an agency that handles audio advertising for companies like Constellation Brands, Oracle, and Headspace, said several of its biggest clients are “very interested in being present in the space, because it reaches a very active and interested audience.”

Lisa Jacobs, VP of media operations and analytics at audio and video agency Ad Results Media, said it’s “in our top three genres that we buy” for clients, which have included brands like Molson Coors, FanDuel, and ZipRecruiter. “Sports fans are leaned in and listening every week, so it’s a great audience to activate for the right product,” Jacobs added.

Advertisers have tens of thousands of sports podcasts to choose from, ranging from network-produced shows hosted by pro athletes to indie pods hosted by fans.

A good sports-podcast media plan includes both, according to Abraham. Major shows that cover entire leagues or sports news in general can provide the benefit of reach, but fan-led shows that focus on specific teams tend to be more targeted and affordable, he said.

Sports podcast CPMs are generally in line with the rest of the podcast industry, several execs said. The average rate for CPMs has hovered just under $25 in recent months, according to Libsyn’s AdvertiseCast marketplace.

Some of the fan-led podcasts with relatively lower CPMs report listenership metrics that are attractive to buyers. Oxford Road, for instance, worked with The Arsenal Opinion in its indie days, when it clocked about 15,000 downloads per episode, Abraham told us. (It was acquired by sports podcast network Blue Wire in July.)

Naturally, it’s more expensive to place an ad on a podcast like Let’s Go! with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray than it is to secure an endorsement on a show that doesn’t regularly feature an athlete with seven Super Bowl rings.

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Daniel Maas, EVP of commercial, partnerships and revenue at Wave Sports + Entertainment, the company behind NFL brothers Travis and Jason Kelce’s podcast New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce, which has hit the No. 1 spot on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, said that the show is “commanding very premium CPMs based on certainly the caliber of the talent involved in those ads.”

While there’s no shortage of podcasts in the genre, execs at Blue Wire and sports podcast network Locked On both told us their listenership skews toward men ages 18 to about 50, which could impact which advertisers are interested. But others pointed out that there does seem to be a shift taking place.

“There used to be a day where people would buy sports because they wanted to reach men,” said Steven Kritzman, SVP of sales at SXM Media, which sells ads for sports podcasts including Let’s Go! with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray. “I don’t think that’s really the case anymore…It’s really a universal thing, and so our big CPG advertisers will advertise in sports as well, our auto manufacturers, our QSRs, our financial services. It kind of runs the gamut.”

The kicker

Some sports podcasts will lower their ad rates to reflect potential lulls in content during the off-season, according to Jacobs. Luke Pagano, VP of sales at Blue Wire, told us that moments like playoffs do tend to lead to listenership (and price) spikes, but that high demand can also happen during key moments in the off-season.

David Locke, the radio play-by-play voice of the Utah Jazz and CEO of Locked On Podcast Network, said listenership tends to spike more during times like trade deadlines and drafts than it does during major games.

“Every team is involved in the draft. Every team is involved in the trade deadline,” Locke told us. “Every team is involved in free agency, and so the off-season and the talk around the league actually fosters larger audiences than recapping the Sunday game.”

Kevin Straley, chief content officer at TuneIn, an audio streaming service with a wide roster of sports content, including podcasts, said demand for off-season coverage has grown over the past five years, and that the company is hoping to capitalize.

“I certainly think for the four major sports, and even college football because of recruiting, there are fans that want to get more content in that off-season, and sports talk radio is not the only place to get it,” he said.

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