David Locke

Podcasting continued to mature in 2019 and Locked On Podcast Network did some growing up of its own. It was ahead of the curve when it comes to focusing on short, daily podcasts. And that helped it more than double its download numbers. Locked On broke the seven-million download number in October, up from three million a year earlier. And downloads have grown 400% since January 2018.

Launched three years ago by Utah Jazz play-by-play announcer David Locke, the Locked On Podcast Network now produces more than 140 daily podcasts and nearly 600 show episodes a week, with locally-focused podcasts tied to NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball teams. Locke credits the hiring of COO Carl Weinstein last year for helping Locked On become a “real company” in 2019, rather than a pure start-up. And in a first for the network, last month it raised its first capital from outside investors.

Podcast News Daily recently caught up with Locke to get an update on where things stand for the company. An edited transcript follows.

Podcast News Daily: It’s been a big year of growth for Locked On. Has it played out the way you expected?

David Locke: I believe in local from my background as a radio program director. As great as the national shows are, fans want to know about their team. People like basketball and football, but they’re a fan of their team. So as podcasting has grown and more people become aware of it, the growth doesn’t surprise me. Finding a local host who covers your team with some in-depth insight is appealing. That makes sense.

PND: Are the numbers where you thought they would be at this point?

Locke: The fact that we’re having two million listen-weeks seems really big, considering I started as a single show in Park City, UT from my house screaming every time someone said ‘yes.’

PND: Locked On has also expanded the amount of shows it produced this year, growing its baseball lineup and adding hockey.

Locke: That’s a large part of the growth. People find out that the Cincinnati Reds fan tells his buddy who is a New York Yankees fan about Locked On. That word of mouth helps too. There’s overall growth in podcasting and a desire to find talk about your team. We have no off-season. Our growth is bigger in the off-season than in-season. Our in-season numbers hold, and we grow dramatically in the off-season.

PND: Are some sports doing better for you than others?

Locke: We’ve doubled football listening this year compared to last year, so that’s pretty significant. Basketball did that last year. Our mature channels, NBA and NFL, are still growing at a dramatic rate. Our week before Thanksgiving number was the biggest ever for our NBA channel by a considerable number.

PND: Why was that?

Locke: I think our NBA channel content is really good, people are interested in their teams, there’s a lot of great stories this year and so the league is good, and the men and women who are covering for us are doing a terrific job. Being daily and being local, you become part of someone’s listening habits.

PND: With sports podcasts, is it the sport that matters or the podcast host?

Locke: Both of those—and the fandom of the franchise. All three matter. That’s one of the things that we’ve adapted to. Some of our hosts are different than other hosts. We’re not trying to be Starbucks. Each talent has their own mechanism by which they can be great, and we want to foster that.

PND: You’ve got all the big sports. Anything else you want to add content-wise?

Locke: I think there are things to add in those existing programming channels that we’ll look at. And I think there’s a soccer opportunity out there at some point, if done correctly.

PND: More shows are going daily, most notably news roundups. Does that give you any sense of validation since Locked On has been offering daily podcasts since it launched?

Locke: I’m not so arrogant to think the New York Times went daily because we did. But I do think it’s validation to go daily. I never doubted that for one second. I still believe you need to be daily and part of listeners’ lives. To use a radio term, to be P-1. You want to check in on your team every day and then go to the national stories. We become part of your life. The average podcast listener listens to seven podcasts a week. My dream is that we have three or four of the seven.

PND: The data shows podcasts got nearly two minutes shorter in 2019. You were also ahead of the curve doing short 25 to 30-minute podcasts. Think your shows will get even shorter?

Locke: We believe right now in doing it every day in a short-form digestible podcast. You’ll notice on baseball our shows are 15 to 17 minutes because they play daily, and the news cycle is different in that sport, so there’s no need to go longer. Our driving principle is making the sport fan’s experience better, whether that means more knowledgeable hosts or more enjoyable shows.

PND: Is Locked On revenue increasing at the same clip as audience growth?

Locke: It’s growing nicely. Our 2019 revenue is up 150% versus 2018. I think we can really serve sports brands well and serve clients uniquely by being sports and local and I don’t think we’ve tapped it yet. We’re an incredible buy. Advertisers are getting huge numbers of passionate sports fans listening to a podcast about their favorite team. You could buy a national show and get a really good number of people, but none of them are listening about their favorite team. We’re able to serve an advertiser giving them those listeners at pretty big numbers. They have similar demographics, high education, and high incomes. It’s an incredible buy and we have not got that across to the industry, as well as we should. I’m excited that when advertisers begin to figure out what we have to offer.

PND: Have you seen how your advertisers are changing during the past year?

Locke: We’ve had some increased brand spending, but I would say yes and no.

PND: Does it really matter as long as someone is buying the inventory?

Locke: If we have an entire portion of advertisers that we are not tapping into, then it matters.

PND: Is Locked On selling local advertising yet?

Locke: Regional sales are important for us. We can couple together our five shows in Michigan or four shows in Dallas and really serve a client. That is important for us and it’s a major focus for us right now.

PND: What percent of your ads are local versus national?

Locke: We’re about 15% local.

PND: This fall you raised your first outside capital. What will that bring you?

Locke: We’re excited to have the money to improve our internal quality. You can hear it already. The quality of our shows is way better. We made some hires preemptively and I think they’ve had an impact already. Our hosts have a much better support staff than they’ve had before and in turn I think their shows sound better. And we do expect to spend a lot of money on sales and marketing to increase discovery.

PND: Is that the biggest problem?

Locke: I think discovery is a big challenge. But the local aspect gives us some unique abilities to be able to zero-in and focus some of the marketing.

PND: With the new capital, are you looking to grow Locked On through acquisitions?

Locke: We’re trying to build a great company. We got some really specific metric goals that we’re trying to reach in 24 to 36 months. And if we hit those, we’ll have an unbelievably complete company that’s making really good money. That’s what we want to build.

PND: So you’re not focused on acquisitions?

Locke: I don’t think it’s the right way for us to do things.

PND: You’ve said in the past that you see radio and podcasting working well together.

Locke: We’ve seeing it even more. They’re just two different entities and they work pretty well together. Live radio matters and in-depth podcasting to a niche audience matters. Podcasting is changing from someone sitting behind the microphone to professional broadcasters.

PND: Looking at 2020, anything you’re looking to do next year?

Locke: We’ll try to complete our roster. I’m just excited to get better at what we’re doing—get better at sales, make our shows sound better, and get more universal production across the board. Some of the nuts and bolts things.