Why are advertisers and brands racing to be part of the sports podcast crowd? 

To use an appropriate sporting analogy, when it comes to advertising, sports podcasts are punching well above their weight. 

A recent report from the IAB shows that US advertising spend within podcasting grew £90 million year on year. Whilst the genre growth in advertising revenue is not remarkable in its own right, since all podcasts are growing advertising revenue annually, what is exceptional is that the growth outstrips both its performance in terms of market share and audience.

In 2022, the US sports genre attracted 15% of advertising revenue, up from 11% the previous year and knocking “news” from that top spot for the first time since 2018. 

So, why are brands turning to sports audio as a way to reach audiences and market their brands?

Sports Audiences are Super-Engaged

There is a lot of synergy between sports fans and podcast audiences. Both groups share very similar characteristics: They are both loyal to their favourites, very engaged and extremely passionate. 

Spotify’s research in 2019 found that 81% of podcast listeners took action after hearing a host read advert during a podcast — anything from looking up a product online to connecting with a brand on social media to talking about a product with someone. 

That route to action is often driven by the connection felt between a listener and a podcast host. It’s easy to see how that sense of connection can be amplified when you add a favourite sports team into the mix. A passionate fan is likely to feel equally strongly about their favourite show discussing that sport and the hosts that lead the discussion. 

Advertisers can tap into that passion by aligning with the right shows and hosts. 

That’s the opportunity for brands to align with the host, for example, a Bill Simmons or a J.J .Redick, and then get a direct connection into those fans whether it be a sales lead/acquisition type of thing like getting more people to sign up for Seatgeek or to build up the brand

Sean Callanan (The Sports Geek podcast) speaking to Pitch

Sports podcasts are also great for consumer recall. Podcasting is great for building an emotional connection between the audience and the show and that connection is heightened with sports podcasts because the emotion elicited is often heightened. Anger, joy, despair, and stress are all common emotions associated with sports. Emotion is a powerful aid to memory (just think about your clearest memories, they will almost all be connected to moments of high emotion both positive and negative) and that can translate to associated brands as much as big in-game events or podcast content.

Podcasts Never Stop

Much of sports sponsorship and advertising focuses on the main event itself. Shirt sponsorship, digital signage and half-time ad breaks all rely on the sport itself but podcasting provides the opportunity to reach outside of those key moments. 

Be it the gap in season between events or the space in the close season, shows that focus on content such as news, gossip, and interviews of sports-format content can give advertisers a touch point aside from those big moments – and an ability to reach those fans throughout the whole year. 

As Kevin Straley, chief content officer at TuneIn points out, there is always a hunger for good sports content: 

I certainly think for the four major sports 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,”  

Kevin Straley, Chief Content Officer – TuneIn

As Kevin suggests, sports radio does fill some of that voice. But where the broadcast medium of radio is forced to appeal to a large mass audience, the narrowcast nature of podcasting allows brands to find incredibly targeted, sometimes niche, pockets of fans. 

This leads to the third driving factor behind the sports podcasts boom…

Accountability and Targeting

As mentioned earlier, traditional sports advertising focuses on mass visibility (think shirt sponsors and digital hoarding) where the sheer size of an audience gives brands access to their core demographic. Even with these large audiences, there is a healthy amount of good faith involved that messages land with the correct audience and resulting action is taken. 

Podcasting can offer a level of targeting and accountability that other media sales find hard to match. 

The growth in dynamically inserted Host Read Adverts (HRA’s) over the last five years can give advertisers even more certainty that their campaigns are reaching the right ears. In 2019, 52% of HRA campaigns we’re “baked in” to podcasts (part of the source audio files) now that number is down to just 16% meaning that ad tech can not only ensure that certain listener demographics hear the advert (defined by variants of age, location, sex and more) but also track the impact those ads are having and if positive action is being taken by the audience.

We are discovering who our listeners are, where they are, and how they engage with brands. The anonymised, granular data that we can draw from is hugely powerful and only goes to add to the value that can be offered alongside audio’s already very exciting data on recall and engagement.

Andrea Day – Operations Director (Voiceworks)

These three triggers are just some of the qualities that have led to the current interest in sports podcasts from advertisers which means that for many official bodies and rights holders podcasting is now a realistic major revenue stream as well as being a fantastic PR tool and a way to engage new and existing fanbases. 

Why your podcast downloads dropping recently may not be a bad thing

When you next log into your podcast hosting platform to take a peek at your audience data you may be in for a bit of a shock. It is likely that your worst podcasting fears have been realised and your download numbers have dropped but, don’t panic yet. 

There is a very simple reason why this has happened and, in the long term, it’s probably a good thing.

Why have my download numbers dropped?

The latest iOS 17 update for Apple devices has changed the way that automatic downloads are handled.

Automatic downloads for shows will now be paused when a listener hasn’t played/listened to a show they follow for either the last five episodes or the last fifteen days. This remains the case until a listener resumes playing that show or manually changes their download preferences to start automatically downloading episodes again. Apple say this is to help preserve device storage.

Obviously, this change doesn’t impact the number of people listening to your show via Apple devices but, as the market share for Apple Podcasts is so large, these changes can have a pretty heavy impact on your numbers. Earlier this week, for example, Buzzsprout reported that Apple downloads had fallen by 24%, largely down to this change.

Why isn’t this a bad thing?

I can understand that the first reaction to the news your downloads are going to drop is mild panic but it’s important to remember that the “listeners” never existed in the first place.

Sure, your content was being downloaded onto someone’s phone or tablet but it was never reaching anyone’s ears. Yes, your download numbers may appear smaller than before but the number of people hearing your content remains the same.

There was a similar impact on downloads in 2017-18 with the introduction of IAB Tech Lab Podcast Measurement 2.0 (the industry standard for measuring podcast audience). 

Previous to this podcast downloads/listens were measured by the number of times an RSS feed was “hit”. However, each feed could potentially be “hit” several times during a single listening session meaning that one listener was being counted multiple times.

The new IAB standard meant that listening was measured within a 24-hour window meaning that one person’s multiple listening sessions within 24 hours would count as one listen.

It resulted in some podcasters “losing” up to 60% of their “listeners” overnight.

The introduction of the IAB standard had a very different intention to the Apple Update. Whilst Apple are in pursuit of improving user experience, IAB wanted to improve reporting and give advertisers more confidence. The outcome however could be similar, and that’s why this may not be all bad.

In terms of the media landscape as a whole, podcasting is very much still the new kid on the block and as such has to work a little harder to attract the advertising pound.

Whilst it could be argued that the accuracy and transparency offered by podcasting far outstrips that of some of its competitors (radio and RAJAR for example) anything that can be done to increase advertiser confidence and attract more business into the sector is a positive thing.

Although it wasn’t their main intention, by making this switch, Apple is giving podcast advertisers more reassurance that the baked-in ads they are paying people to hear are reaching genuine pairs of ears. It’s worth noting that dynamically inserted advertising already gives advertisers this confidence as advertising impressions are only counted when an advert is consumed in its entirety.

As Acast CEO, Ross Adams pointed out, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain:

“In the long-term, the change will mean a more accurate picture of the listening frequency for each podcast which is a positive development for the industry as a whole. In the short-term, we expect a decrease in the number of overall listens and an increase in the average revenue per listen.”

Whilst the expected drop in numbers may be painful for many right now, more confidence in reporting data means more advertisers. Also, as Ross suggests, having more genuine listeners hearing adverts should lead to increases in ad effectiveness.

Both of these things will result in higher ad value and higher ad value means more money in podcasters’ pockets.