The rise of the sports podcast

Charlie Giese charts the success of this innovative medium, examining how it has captured the imagination of sports fans, both novice and expert alike

Gone are the days of reading the paper to find out the latest football gossip, who’s being tipped to win this year’s All Ireland, or to find out about the latest FAI scandal. This might be expected with the rise of social media in the last decade or so.

However, it is the sports podcast that is on the rise in Ireland, and they have become an integral part of the way this country processes sport. The last decade has seen sports podcasts achieve unprecedented success; Newstalk’s Off The Ball is the leading show on Irish radio in its time slot and the Second Captains podcast won the “iTunes Podcast of the Year” in 2014. Football Weekly, Fighting Talk, and the Total Rugby podcast have also all become wildly successful. So, what is it about the sports podcast format that makes it so enjoyable?

Social media has become the primary platform for digesting news, perhaps since it is highly customisable in what you read about. However, as far as sport is concerned, it appears that podcasts are a preferred medium for many people. In most corners of society, the direction of progress has been steadily pointing away from radio, to a show that takes place in the theatre of the mind. The sports podcasts seems to be illustrating to the world that the basic format of radio can still capture people’s attention, even in an online form. Podcasts allow sports fans to connect with people in a more relaxed fashion than on television or social media. They are more laid back and informal and this is something that suits the way sports content is consumed.

There is also the appeal of so-called “banter”. Off The Ball are all fast friends; they create an atmosphere of inclusion and enjoyment which generally envelops their audience, allowing their thousands of listeners into the discussion in an intimate and personal fashion. Apart from featuring and discussing the latest sporting news, these podcasts engage in various games and competitions, pitting the members against each other to utilise their sporting knowledge. Occasionally, past sporting glories are examined, be it Italia 90, or Donegal’s first All-Ireland Senior Football Championship win in 1992. Old heroes are interviewed to recall days gone by, thus drawing an older generation into a relatively modern form of media, all the while the show is presented in a very easygoing and sometimes satirical manner.

All of this has led to Irish sports podcasts achieving unimaginable success. Second Captains and Off the Ball are household names, while The Football Ramble has won multiple awards. It seems that everyone, from authors to athletes, teams to networks, columnists to broadcasters, is vying for a bite of the podcast apple. This has only furthered these podcasts’ success, as more and more well-known sports people successively take part. Brian O’Driscoll and Kevin Kilbane are regulars on Off the Ball. They bring considerable sporting knowledge and expert punditry to the table, along with a huge public following, which increases the show’s fanbase. It is the addition of these heavy-hitters that has given the concept of the podcast such legitimacy in the media.

Of course, if one were to use one word to describe the general trend of media and technology in the past decade, it would be “instant”. Everyone wants to read their news now, not in ten minutes or an hour. No one wants to wait a week for the next episode of their favourite TV show. This is the greatest advantage that podcasts have over traditional media like television and radio; they are instant and accessible at any time. It only takes an internet connection and a click, and you can listen to your favourite podcasts whenever you like; there is no relying on being available for specific time slots. In a non-stop modern world, people are constantly busy, and being available to listen to your favourite radio shows every day is difficult. Podcasts solve this issue by being available online 24/7 from the time they are released. This is of course very appealing and encourages people to pick podcasts over other forms of media.

So, it certainly looks like sports podcasts are set to dominate the market for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to see them losing their appeal without a major new competitor emerging onto the scene. Of course, with technology advancing at a rapid pace, it’s impossible to predict what new forms of media could appear in the next ten years.