It has been three years since Bill Simmons launched The Ringer, a sports and pop culture brand led by its website. The Ringer has also become a big player in podcasting as it amassed 53.5 million downloads in May to its 30 podcasts. Simmons tells Adweek the company had $15 million in advertising sales and it’s tracing to be up significantly from that number in 2019.
“Some things worked in our favor, like the industry has really grown,” said Simmons. “Sponsors are coming around, but we could feel that in 2014 and 2015, because that was the first time I felt like A-list sponsors were starting to at least sniff around with podcasts. We always believed that there was going to be more available ad money. Now as we’re heading to this end of the decade, you’re definitely seeing a shift.” As younger audiences turn away from some traditional media options, he said podcast audiences will continue to grow. He predicts that within the next three years the podcast industry could pull in as much as $4 billion in advertising revenue.
Simmons is among The Ringer’s podcasters, hosting the apropos named show The Bill Simmons Podcast. Also included among its more than two dozen shows are podcasts about sports and those that aim to expand the conversation. Bachelor Party is a podcast about the television “Bachelorette” series and Black on the Air features conservative commentator Larry Wilmore.
“As our business has evolved, we now have a balance between brands that come to us directly, relationships that we can leverage for the website and the podcast network or videos and podcasts,” Simmons told Adweek. “We’re trying to create a multimedia site, and that’s why I bristle when people think all the revenue we make is from podcasts. It’s just not true. Our website is really successful right now, and for four straight months, we’ve had our best months.”
Simmons says it was his belief in the future of podcast that motivated him to leave ESPN in 2015 after 14 years with the sports network. He said in his final year and a half at ESPN he was “battling” network executives to do more with podcasting. It also confirmed to him the medium’s potential. “I saw what was happening with podcasts. We were at a point at ESPN where I think we had nine of the 10 biggest podcasts they had, and they couldn’t monetize them, and it made no sense to me. So I just knew,” said Simmons.
Even as podcasting continues to growth, The Ringer’s next move could be in video. HBO is one of its investors and the cable network’s parent company Warner Media has announced plans to launch its own video streaming service. Simmons told Adweek that could mean going deeper into narrative podcasts.
“I feel good about the website and the podcasts,” said Simmons. “The biggest way for us to grow now is digital shows, narrative podcasts, things like that. We have a couple of documentaries going, a couple of things that we’re going to announce pretty soon. That’s like the next thing for us, because I always want the company to be like an octopus. I want us to have eight arms.”