Brand Strategy

Behind AllCity’s strategy to challenge sports talk radio

The company has raised $8 million and counting in VC funding since it started in Denver nearly 10 years ago.
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· 5 min read

“Tony from Conshohocken, you’re on the podcast.”

A new, Philly-centric sports outlet is leaning on podcasting to balm the city’s ravenous fans on Broad Street. Phly is the Philadelphia outlet for the AllCity Network, a streaming-first media company that started in Denver and has since expanded to Chicago and Phoenix.

In Philadelphia, AllCity has deployed a strategy The Athletic employed not too long ago: Pulling big names from local papers, radio stations, (and in Phly’s case, The Athletic itself), with the hope that those audiences will follow them to Phly.

AllCity is venture-backed—like The Athletic, which was never profitable, before it was bought by The New York Times—with growth and scale as the primary goal, according to AllCity co-founder and CEO Brandon Spano.

AllCity is largely focused on podcasts and video—and a ton of it. A month into its Philly tenure, the 19-person team is pumping out one podcast for each of the five professional sports franchises in the city, with the goal of publishing episodes roughly five times a week per team.

Across the four cities where it has a presence, AllCity releases a total of over 100 hours of sports podcasting per week. The tonnage play is almost reminiscent of sports talk radio—have a constant stream of sports content and let audiences tune in.

“We created what we think is the future of local sports media,” Spano told us.

Pods and parties

Spano, who’s worked in ad sales in Denver, said he started Dnvr (then called BSN Denver) in 2014, largely inspired by SB Nation. Podcasts followed, then daily podcasts, events—mostly watch parties—and merch. Eventually, the site got big enough that someone asked to license the website’s branding for a sports bar.

But it was making most of its money from ads. “By the end of 2017…Most of our revenue was coming from podcast advertising and the video we would create,” Spano said. Currently, about 70% of AllCity’s revenue comes from advertising.

That diversified revenue strategy of events, merch, and content is what Spano is hoping to replicate with outlets in Phoenix (started in September 2021), Chicago (started in March 2022), and now, Philadelphia. Each site also sells city-specific annual memberships for $79.99 that include discounts on events, merch, and access to a Discord server. “A successful media company can’t be one thing. It just can’t,” he said.

In August, AllCity’s three established markets reached 8.4 million total listens, made up of podcast downloads and YouTube views, according to Spano. Denver alone accounted for 3 million of those, though these are not unique users.

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At least 1,000 people have signed up for Phly’s membership plan, according to Spano. He expects Phly to be profitable within the first year, with the goal of eventually bringing in $10 million annually.

It’s a model Spano said he wants to replicate quickly: “I kind of joke, but, we can pop these up like Chick-fil-As.”

AllCity has raised about $8 million in venture capital, and it’s still raising. A national podcast network is set to roll out this month, helping AllCity court national advertisers. Phly rolled out with DraftKings, Manscaped, Gametime, and Athletic Greens as Phly sponsors, and has a total of nine more advertisers as of this month, Spano said.

Phly, Eagles, Phly

In Philadelphia, Phly’s splashy entrance has led to a boil. The company hired 97.5 The Fanatic’s Anthony Gargan, who allegedly violated the noncompete clause in his contract, according to a lawsuit filed by the station’s parent company. When asked about the situation, Spano said “We’re looking for exposure, and this has been great exposure for us.”

“What we believe is that we’re standing up a different product that’s not disruptive to sports talk radio. It’s a different listenership, it’s a different audience, and it’s a different product. These are team-specific products. It’s very different,” he said.

A sales deck shared with Marketing Brew and confirmed by Spano pairs Phly’s projected audience against sports talk radio stations with a graphic that says “competitive edge.” Written in all-caps, the first slide reads, “THE LOCAL ALL SPORTS MEDIA MARKET IS COLLAPSING,” above screenshots of headlines about media layoffs.

To Spike Eskin, VP of programming at New York sports talk radio station WFAN and former program director of Philadelphia’s WIP station, all sports talk radio stations are fighting for listeners’ time regardless of new competition. Eskin also co-hosts a Philadelphia 76ers podcast called The Rights to Ricky Sanchez.

Sports talk radio stations become ingrained with the culture of a city—when Eskin was program director, he went to the funeral of a regular WIP caller, he said—and that isn’t something that can be built overnight, even if Philly is a “pretty crazed sports town.” The question, Eskin said, is “How many spare hours do people have in a day? And who do they want to spend [them] with?”

“I think we have to do our jobs well every day, and I don’t think the appearance of somebody else doing more podcasts and more YouTube changes that,” he told Marketing Brew.

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