Apr 14, 2024 - News

How local sports podcasts in the Twin Cities are bucking national trends

Illustration of a football, soccer ball, basketball, baseball, and volleyball cycling through wearing a pair of headphones.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When Glen Taylor canceled the sale of the Timberwolves last month, would-be buyers Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore took to "The Dane Moore Podcast" to tell their side of what happened.

Why it matters: A local, independent sports podcast landing such a coveted interview didn't happen years ago. But Moore and a handful of other Twin Cities podcasters have bucked national trends to become profitable and influential.

State of play: Media companies are struggling to sell advertising and, in turn, have shed jobs and cut podcasts, which they've struggled to monetize.

By the numbers: Moore declined to share specific numbers, but when we talked in early April, his was the 11th-most-downloaded basketball podcast in the country behind mainly national programs, according to Chartable.

  • Typical episodes of Matthew Coller's "Purple Insider" podcast that covers the Vikings get 5,000-10,000 listens apiece through downloads or YouTube streams, with some even more popular.
  • The "Gleeman and the Geek" weekly free Twins podcast averaged 14,500 downloads last year and has a subscriber base of 4,000 for its $1 per-episode Patreon podcast.

The intrigue: When hosts Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes shared their download numbers on social media last year, fans of the show quickly figured out the two are easily making six figures apiece, even after Patreon took a 30% cut.

  • The hosts confirmed those estimates to Axios.

Coller, a former AM 1500 ESPN reporter and host who lost his job early in the pandemic, told me his income, which also includes revenue from a Substack, now is "significantly better than AM radio will do for you on a personal level."

What they're saying: "I see friends of mine losing their jobs," Coller said. "I feel like I'm standing outside watching the house burn with my friends in it."

🎙️ How they built it

Coller, Moore and Gleeman/Bonnes have very different formats and business models, but they have two things in common:

  1. They're beat reporters who attend games and interview players and coaches. Unlike the hot-take mill on the national level, the hosts are insiders.
  2. They use data and analytics to explain sports much more in depth than traditional media.

Between the lines: Some of what they talk about can veer into the nerdy, which might not work for a broad audience on sports talk radio, but it drives the narratives among the most ardent fans.

State of play: Their success has also been aided by strong fan bases and teams capturing their attention.

Audience growth has been organic for the shows, as hosts use social media and guest appearances on other media to promote themselves.

  • Celebrity Wolves fan Craig Kilborn and TV broadcaster Jim Petersen regularly shout out Moore's podcast.

Follow the money: All three use larger podcast companies that sell advertising and share revenue with hosts.

  • Many ads are pre-produced and placed into podcasts, but Gleeman and Bonnes only do live ads, in which they discuss a certain product during the show.
  • Bonnes said those advertisers pay a higher rate and tend to renew more frequently.

Plus: Twin Cities podcast hosts have found other ways to monetize. They've landed deals with local advertisers, hosted events and put some of their content behind a paywall.

Zoom out: Investors have taken note of the potential of local sports podcasts.

  • A growing company that started in Denver named AllCity recently raised $9.4 million, which has helped fuel its expansion to cities where it hires reporters and radio hosts to start podcasts.

From unknowns to celebs

Gleeman and Bonnes started their podcast in 2011 and, for the first few years, they were losing money and recording episodes in loud bars with drunken patrons occasionally interrupting, asking why they were talking into mics.

When I interviewed them in the coffee shop of a downtown Minneapolis office building recently, a young woman in professional attire walked by and recognized them.

  • "I love your podcast!" she yelled.

Gleeman leaned toward my phone that was recording the conversation: "That was a real thing that just happened," he said.

The bottom line: It was funny, but it also showed how local sports podcasters have arrived.

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