TheAthletic220

Even as some podcasters mull whether a subscription model and the revenue that comes with it should be part of their business plan, another podcaster is moving in the opposite direction. The Athletic is putting some of its podcasts in front of its paywall in order to entice listeners to convert to paid users. The move comes as The Athletic announces the addition of more than 40 local and national-focused podcasts will expand its coverage of the NFL, college football, and fantasy football.

The Athletic, a digital sports media company, announced on Twitter that it will offer one episode a week to non-subscribers with a second “bonus” episode available only to subscribers. The move is designed to get listeners to sample some of the podcasts in its portfolio and then covert them into paid users. A subscription to The Athletic starts at $5 per month—although it is currently running a 40% promotion that comes to about $3 per month.

The paid model has meant that The Athletic has given users ad-free content but Axios reports the company will make its first foray into the ad model by including commercials in a “small portion” of its free podcasts—although more may begin integrating commercials as the experiment moves forward.

The Athletic launched its podcast unit last April with nearly two dozen shows and an in-house podcast studio based at its San Francisco headquarters. The podcasting push is well-financed. The Athletic raised $40 million last October in a third round of fundraising that valued the company at $200 million. It is reportedly using some of that money to hire a team of 12 people to work on its new podcasting team.

It enters an increasingly crowded genre which is today dominated by ESPN and Barstool Sports. Podtrac reported earlier this year that the number of shows it tracks in the sports genre went up another 63% between 2017 and 2018 but the genre’s unique monthly audience remains smaller than other categories with fewer than 600,000 unique listeners—a mere 8% growth rate during the past year.

Allowing listeners to sample content isn’t a new concept for subscriber-only podcasts. Luminary makes episodes of many of its exclusive shows available without a subscription. A Luminary spokeswoman explained earlier this year that it typically makes the one or two episodes of Premium shows available on the free-tier for any app user, regardless of whether a listener is a subscriber.

Meanwhile The Athletic announced on Facebook last week that it has more than 600,000 subscribers and its payroll has grown to more than 400 staffers covering sports in the U.S. and Canada.