ESPN Radio microphone

As ESPN sees its podcast audience grow—the company says it had 5.8 million unique listeners to its podcasts during July, a 17% increase over a year ago—the network is also increasingly filling theaters for live events tied to its podcasts.

In recent weeks, podcasts such as Dan LeBatard’s Le Batard and Friends did a live show in front of an audience in New York, ESPN’s Front Row blog says, while in Chicago, ESPN mixed martial arts analyst Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show held an event. In Los Angeles, Ryen Russillo recorded an episode of his podcast, while The Mina Kimes Show went live in front of an audience in Seattle.

Tom Ricks, VP of Digital Strategy and Marketing at ESPN Audio, said they began taking their podcasts on the road in 2016 as a way to strengthen the connection between the shows and the fans and so far they’ve done about 30 events. Ricks said the effort has been “very successful.” Other podcasts have recorded shows in Boston, Houston and Washington. In each case the podcasts are selling out 250 to 350 seat theaters.

“The podcast crowds are the most consistently avid fans we meet on the road,” said Elizabeth Paige Fierman, Senior Manager of Event Marketing at ESPN Audio. “There’s always a great energy that you can feel on-site that translates to the episodes. It’s also become clear the talent ‘meet and greets’ with the audience are the most valuable experience to the fans. Our talent has bought into this live show framework and they find it rewarding, too.”

Fantasy Focus Football podcast host Matthew Berry said in the blog post that unlike recording a show at ESPN’s Bristol, CT campus, a live event allows hosts like him a chance to connect with listeners in a different way than just through email or social media. “There’s nothing like going out and meeting fans in public, seeing their faces, talking to them, feeling that incredible energy from them and just having a blast,” he said.

July marked the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year growth for ESPN in terms of audience. The network says shows created specifically for podcasts grew downloads 25% in July, compared to a year earlier based on Podtrac data. And the growth wasn’t all sports. The July increases were led by listenership of FiveThirtyEight: Politics and The Lowe Post, the basketball-focused podcast hosted by ESPN's Zach Lowe. ESPN says the busy NBA off-season drove The Lowe Post to a new single-day high on July 6. Overall, downloads for The Lowe Post were up 17% last month. ESPN currently produces more than three dozen podcast originals in addition to on-demand versions of its radio and television shows.