Tell us a little about your podcast, The Action Network Podcast. What’s the show about?
Our show covers sports for the invested sports fan. Whether they like to bet on games, or enter daily fantasy tournaments, or just play in casual fantasy football leagues with friends, we leverage The Action Network’s best-in-class insights, tools and analytics to help our listeners make more informed decisions and become smarter bettors.
Depending on the season, we release up to 4 episodes a week, each covering gambling angles for a specific sport (NFL, college basketball, PGA, etc). Odds are whatever listeners are passionate about, we have something to offer them.
How did you get started in podcasting?
I actually worked in marketing for over 10 years before I changed careers. I drove the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and then went on to manage similar experiential marketing tours for a great agency in Milwaukee. But ultimately I wasn’t passionate about the work I did. But what I did have a passion for was 1) hearing and telling great stories, and 2) sports gambling. I knew if I was going to work in podcasting as a profession, I needed to learn more. A lot more. So after I was accepted into a Syracuse University master’s program to study audio production, I quit my job. In the summer of 2017 my wife and I (along with our six-week-old son Monty) moved from Milwaukee to Syracuse so I could follow my passion. The same month I graduated, the federal government repealed PASPA, the law effectively banning sports betting in America. This was a huge opportunity for me, both as a gambler and a future podcast producer. I pitched a podcast internship to The Action Network, a sports gambling media start-up I was following closely. I offered expensive audio post-production service for a laughably low hourly rate, and they were happy for the help. I worked tirelessly for them for six months, and then was offered a full-time, salaried producer position in the Fall of 2018. I’m now responsible for all our audio products, along with other digital video content.
You recently received a pretty cool award and you beat out out some pretty popular podcasts including one of ESPN’s. Tell us how that all happened and what it means to you as a producer?
A year ago our company had a lot of podcasts. Too many podcasts. I inherited about 8 total podcasts after I was hired. I felt most of the content had potential, but as separate entities they felt too niche to expect the kind of growth we needed. Plus the shows had their own release schedules, and despite all coming under “The Action Network” banner they felt unrelated. Listeners who liked one might not find the others. So my bosses gave me a tall order: develop a comprehensive plan to grow our podcast listener-ship substantially by the start of the 2019 football season.
I developed a plan to streamline into a single channel: The Action Network Podcast. Eliminate niche content with the lowest listener-ship ceiling. Focus on the areas in which we performed best. Improve audio quality across the board. Ensure episodes release at the same time every week. Edit episodes strategically and keep them under an hour.
We launched this re-brand in June, ramped up during the summer and then released 4 episodes a week during the football season. And it worked. We gained audience, we gained advertisers, and we gained respect.
At the end of 2019, The Action Network was nominated for two awards by the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association (FSGA), a national organization that represents the fantasy and gaming industry. At their convention a few weeks ago we won in both categories: Best Content Site/App as well as Best Betting Podcast or Radio Show. We beat out shows from much, much larger competitors (like ESPN) with infinitely more resources at their disposal. It’s extremely gratifying that the best sports betting show in the country is produced, edited and mixed from a Wisconsin basement.
I took the biggest gamble of my life to quit a comfortable career in pursuit of a passion. And it took an endlessly understanding partner and plenty of luck along the way. But the countless hours of work that went into creating an award-winning podcast were all worth it. Because when listeners find a great podcast, they stick around.
In terms of growing your fan base, talk to us about what methods you have been utilizing. What has worked best for you?
If you want to secure a bigger audience, the most effective things aren’t complicated. But they aren’t easy. The biggest thing for me is making sure the show is “sticky.” Basically, if a listener finds your show and gives it a shot, will he/she ever listen again? To make a show as sticky as possible, you need to master the basics, like creating a baseline of audio quality. If a show doesn’t sound like you’re taking it seriously, why should a listener? The minute we took ourselves more seriously, our audience did too.
I’ll share one podcast exercise that changed my life. I learned it from Eric Nuzum, a former NPR honcho & Audible SVP. His team did this before any new podcast could move to production. It’s called The Only Ten Words That Matter, and the basic idea is that the difference between a good podcast and a great one is the clarity of its vision.
You should be able to create a ten-words-or-less summary of your podcast that describes it and NO OTHER podcast. I’ve done this a number of times with my team, and it’s a complete game-changer.
Also, try to keep episodes as short as possible. Someone will have an easier time listening to a new show if it’s 30 minutes vs. 90 minutes. Regardless of what your show is about, it’s hard not to be indulgent. But if you want to grow, tighten up.
Also, a great way to grow a fan base is to turn your content into more content. I taught myself how to use Adobe After Effects so I could make “audiograms” from all our episodes, like this. They’re a great way to showcase your podcast in a low-friction environment. I may not get a listener onto Apple Podcasts to search for my show… but I can probably get him/her to press play on a 30 sec Twitter clip.
What advice do you have for other podcasters in terms of growing their audience?
In one year we grew our audience by about 400%, and achieved over 1,000,000 listens during football season. This kind of growth was no accident. We cross-promote on our podcasts, getting our hosts onto as many shows as possible. We run contents where listeners write positive iTunes reviews, and we pick a winner to receive a prize. That kind of quid pro quo is an easy (and inexpensive) way to mobilize listeners.
I also treat our podcast like a packaged good. I want to deliver the same quality every single episode, and I want the listener to expect it. If you found a loose nail in your Cheerios, you’d probably never buy them again. And if you listened to our show and it was an indulgent, rambling mess, you’re probably not coming back.
For us, our audience is primarily gamblers. We’ve earned their trust and they’ve come to expect strong, actionable content. Not picking winners vs losers, but fast-paced episodes that sound great and are packed with smart, actionable information and fun conversation. If you know what your audience is downloading your show to hear, ensure they hear it every single time, or don’t release the episode.
Our shows are recorded around 75 minutes, and I cut out at least 15 minutes before they post. I respect our audience’s time, and in return they’ve given us loyalty, they’ve spread the word and they’ve made us award-winning. If you don’t edit your podcasts after you’ve recorded, that’s fine. Just keep things snappy.
Your show topic has a pretty broad audience appeal. Do you think that effects your ability to attract new listeners?
It’s funny, our show is about sports so it certainly FEELS like it should have a broad appeal, right? But with tens of thousands of sports podcasts out there, and thousands of sports betting podcasts, the field is pretty crowded. Plus, conversations about sports betting can get a little esoteric, a little complicated, a little boring. For example, if a regular Packers fan who doesn’t gamble listens to our NFL show, they’ll hear about analytics-driven projections and inefficiencies in the betting markets. It’s a topic they love (NFL football), but it can sound like a foreign language if you’re not careful.
So our ability to attract new listeners has come from faithfully serving an audience of gamblers and competitive fantasy players, while keeping our topics and our language accessible to newer gamblers and less experienced listeners. You can’t forget who your core audience is, but if you make the tent a little bigger more people can come inside.
What are your goals for 2020 in regards to increasing your podcast numbers?
Ideally I’d like to see a 20% increase in listener-ship come football season. The gambling calendar is still dominated by the NFL, so the “discovery phase” for new listeners is primarily August thru October. If we can continue to offer actionable, high-utility content through the spring and summer and come into the fall with even more momentum than last season, I’m confident we can hit our goals.