The sports world went from famine to feast this year as the sports calendar first was wiped of any games to a jumble of every pro league playing simultaneously. In the end, what could have been a disastrous year for the ESPN-produced podcast lineup ended up a year that brought record-setting downloads.
In its year-end review, ESPN said it had a record 50.1 million downloads in September, which was a 45% increase from 2019. And when ESPN’s podcasts were rolled up with its corporate siblings of ABC, FiveThirtyEight, and National Geographic, the company totaled a record of 69.5 million downloads in October. That was up 32% versus 2019.
ESPN also notes that its entry into the daily podcast work – ESPN Daily – marked its first anniversary in October with near double the number of monthly downloads as when it premiered. New podcasts released this year included SVPod with Scott Van Pelt and the limited run Bloodlines series with Wright Thompson.
It was not just podcasting where ESPN’s digital growth was this year. Its streaming network ESPN+ more than tripled its subscriber count to 11.5 million and its overall digital reach has been the biggest sports property for 32 consecutive months according to Comscore.
In terms of its other audio business, ESPN Radio, the sports network also unveiled a new weekday lineup in July, which the year-end review says was geared to have a “contemporary and diverse” talent roster.
“It was inspiring to witness the amazing ESPN team display remarkable strength in the face of adversity, turning outsized challenges into opportunities to fulfill our mission of serving fans. Hopefully as well, we served as a unifying force in society by providing a much-needed communal experience,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN and Sports Content. “Looking ahead, the ingenuity and resolve we demonstrated gives us the confidence to take on anything that may confront us.”
The year was not without its challenges. ESPN last month laid-off 300 employees and said it would not fill 200 open positions as the sports network and its parent company Disney continue to deal with financial woes brought on by the pandemic. Talent contracts are being reevaluated. For instance, former ESPN Radio morning co-host Trey Wingo, who has been with the network since 1997 and covered the NFL Draft and hosted “NFL Live” over the years, will see his contract expire at the end of the year. According to reports, ESPN had about 6,000 employees, with the job losses affecting approximately eight percent of its workforce.