iHeartMedia NFL 220

Making sure it is adopting to evolution of media habits is why the NFL is making a play for a larger share of the podcast listener’s time. This summer it signed a multiyear deal with iHeartMedia to create an NFL podcast network. 

“The media landscape has shifted a lot over the last five to ten years and we expect it will shift even more,” said David Jurenka, SVP of NFL Media. The league has just moved into a new state of the art production “format agnostic” studio adjacent to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles that allows it to produce podcasts and other content. And Jurenka said during a presentation for ad buyers on Thursday that the next generation of NFL fans has become accustomed to consuming complementary content.

Meredith Battin, VP of Operations and Club Media at the NFL, said days of sports teams focusing just on what happens on the field, radio and TV are long gone. Now they must think about where fans are spending their time. That means podcasting.

“We’re creating content for all of the different places for where our fans are,” said Battin. “With such a large fan base, there are pockets of them everywhere and we want to be where they are.”

The NFL’s deal with iHeart includes the distribution of seven series already launched by the league, as well as the co-production and distribution of two dozen new original podcasts.

Will Pearson, COO of the iHeartPodcast Network, said the new shows will do more than just go after the football fanatics but also the casual fans. That ranges from the new show Tape Heads that gets into the nitty-gritty of the game to a more accessible show called NFL Explained that explains things like how instant replay became part of the game and where did each team get their name or mascot. It is modeled after iHeart’s series Stuff You Should Know. “It really does span that range with shows finding their places,” said Pearson.

Jurenka said with such a large audience, they need to reach people who are interested in their team and others, especially younger fans, who are more closely tied to a specific player. “There are so many ways in which people are going to come into their NFL experience and how it is crafted for them is really important. Whether it is watching a linear TV show or engaging with fantasy sports or listening to a podcast in the car, we want to make surewe are serving those 190 million fans,” he said.

Battin said their roster of established podcasts has done a good job of reaching men, with just one in ten listeners being a woman. But their expanded lineup will have a broader appeal, without going “overtly pink and fluffy” but remaining “core football” content. “We wanted to make sure we were making an effort to go after female fans,” she said. 

Battin pointed to their just-launched show Split Ends . It is hosted by two women – Colleen Wolfe (Thursday Night Football, Good Morning Football: Weekend) and Erica Tamposi (Around the NFL, The Broadcast) – who talk football from their perspective. “That show is going to appeal to everybody, given their knowledge around the space but we think it will really appeal to women too as they see women like themselves in that space of authority around the sport,” said Battin. She said the NFL could even get into the mystery genre.

Jurenka said the league will create podcasts that will have appeal from coast to coast. But the long term play also includes working with its 32 local franchises to also create their own shows. ”We’ll have certain clubs out there delivering more, but we want to make sure we’re bringing all clubs to a certain level of capability and quality,” he said.

A particular focus for local shows will be access, but Battin says that does not mean bringing Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers to the mic. “Fans of a team want to know all of the inner-workings, whether that’s just what happens on game day inside the stadium or what the experts that live and breathe that club are thinking,” she said. “We think that creates a lot of opportunity.”

The NFL is already reaching about 190 million NFL fans. But when it decided to expand its podcast business, Battin said the best route was working with an established producer like iHeart. 

“Anybody can create a podcast, but getting listeners to that podcast is really difficult,” she said. Battin said the promotional support that iHeart can provide with its footprint, including through its radio stations and live events, was also highly attractive to the league. “Our goal is we own the sport and want to be the leader of NFL podcasts,” she said. “We think iHeart is that partner to take this to the next level and be a destination for NFL podcasts.”

Greater Sport Focus At iHeart

The NFL podcast deal came as iHeart named Kevin LeGrett as its first ever President of iHeartMedia Sports in July. He had been President of the Los Angeles market for the past six years as well as serving as Division President of the Markets Group.

“We’ve got great assets – the Fox Sports Network and personalities like Dan Patrick and Colin Cowherd and the rights deals that we have and now all of the unique brands that we are bringing into our sports genre in podcasting, it’s really an exciting time,” said LeGrett.

After striking a deal to work with the NFL, iHeart also signed a multiyear partnership with the NBA in July. Under the arrangement, iHeart and the NBA will coproduce more than 20 new series with the first set to debut this fall.