The Athletic Looks to Disrupt Podcasting

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


After posting several jobs on their hiring website over the past several months The Athletic has officially unveiled their new suite of podcasts. These will be exclusively available to subscribers, and can only be accessed through their app or website rather than through the podcast apps built in to mobile devices running on software from Apple or Google.


In addition to newly acquired podcasts, The Athletic will also be moving their existing local podcasts behind the paywall. So, if you’re a regular listener to Eric Koreen’s Raptors podcast or James Mirtle’s Leafs podcast then you’ll need to both subscribe and download the app to keep the good times rolling while on the go. (If you’re a fan of the 5th Deck podcast then you’re out of luck either way).


The “featured” shows include:


  • The Daily Ding with Dave Dufour, Big Wos, Travonne Edwards, and Zach Harper  (NBA)
  • The Opener with Jonah Keri (MLB)
  • The Breakout with Julie Stewart-Binks, Billy Jaffe, Craig Custance (NHL)
  • Birds All Day with Andrew Stoeten, Drew Fairservice (MLB)
  • Rates and Barrels with Eno Sarris, Derek Van Riper (Fantasy)
  • Warriors Plus-Minus with Marcus Thompson, Tim Kawakami (NBA)
  • Starkville with Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville (MLB)


This is a mix of established podcasts that could previously be heard for free (some with ads) and new offerings from writers and personalities already on The Athletic’s roster.


According to their press release this is part of hybrid strategy to expand into both the national and local podcasting markets. As we wrote about earlier this year, there is gold in the podcasting hills as advertisers see the value in being able to market directly to a defined user group. Here is a quote from The Athletic HQ:


“The Athletic is uniquely positioned to bring professional polish to local podcasts given our subscriber base and business model. Advertising dollars and local podcasts haven’t gone hand-in-hand, given local’s naturally smaller audiences. “ – Alex Mather, CEO and founder of The Athletic.


Interestingly, the company wants to move away from the longform format of many weekly podcasts, saying that “most podcasts will range from 15-40 minutes long.” This mirrors what you might expect from a segment or hour of traditional radio programming,  once the commercials have been removed. On Twitter, co-founder Alex Mather expanded on his vision:


The idea that The Athletic can offer a “premium” local audio product is intriguing. Arguably already can get that kind of product on local sports talk stations from radio professionals. FAN590 and (to a lesser extent) TSN1050 produce hours and hours of daily analysis and discussion on the Leafs/Raps/Jays, as well as TFC and Argos in smaller doses.


This seems like exactly the kind of established business model that The Athletic aims to disrupt. And fans who want independent local audio coverage should be rejoicing, since the companies that own the teams also own the TSN and Sportsnet radio networks. If The Athletic will be churning out daily or semi-daily podcasts then radio listeners might be tempted to make the switch. The marketplace is very crowded and there are only so many hours in the day that can be devoted to the audio format so there is an element of zero-sum economics at work here. Every converted or retained podcast listener is one fewer for the competition.


The biggest challenge for their strategy will be changing the habits of radio listeners. They have opted to bring all their podcasts inside their app, which means listeners who drive will need to download it to their mobile devices and then stream it to their cars. Newer vehicles offer integration with Android and Apple, and this will provide a technical disincentive to the much simpler option of just flipping on the radio or streaming something that is already in a synced-up playlist. It’s possible that future operating system updates will allow seamless integration with The Athletic’s app. This probably won’t be an issue for listeners using headphones or listening at home.


This announcement comes at a time when Sportsnet and TSN have both invested heavily in branded podcasts beyond their radio shows. Sportsnet recently brought Amil Delic over from CBC to run some of their premium podcasts, and the difference is noticeable. At the same time, Sportsnet has recently branched out into branded video content, in part to provide smaller bite-sized chunks of its podcasts. I’m not sure this pivot to video adds much value.


The Athletic “has well over 100,000 paid subscribers,” of which “tens of thousands” are in Canada according to previous statements. Toronto was one of their signature early additions and are again featured as one of the launch markets for the new podcasting venture, along with the Bay area. A yearly subscription to The Athletic costs $72 CDN but can be had for between $29-$50 CDN depending on promotions available for new customers or retention offers.


Over to you: 


  1. If you’re not a subscriber, will paywalling their podcasts get you to sign up?
  2. If you are a subscriber, do you listen to any of their current podcasts?
  3. If you’re a car commuter, do you want more daily podcasts on the Jays/Raps/Leafs or are you happy to listen to 590/1050?



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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