Filling in the silence: Diving into the world of sports podcasts

COVID-19 has forced the world to come to a pause. The pandemic has emptied streets of cars, malls of people, and along with these, it has also emptied stadiums of sporting events and their fans. Many sports have taken rain checks to keep people safe from the virus, leaving many fans missing the action. 

But what is it about sports that fans so sorely miss? Surely, they miss witnessing the action—the competitiveness and the battles that sporting events portray—along with the emotions that come with it all. But there is something else that comes with sports that make the fans miss the scene dearly; these are the conversations they have with other people. However, with the constraints presented by the virus, and the lack of sporting events to look forward to, the question presents itself: what is there to talk about now, and with who?

Standing in place of these gaps are sports podcasts. Through these, fans can feed off different opinions and compelling narratives, and gain some sense that they are still part of the kinds of conversations they miss having.

Sports through the ears

Podcasts have been around for a long time now, but have recently gained more attention. A podcast is an audio program, similar to radio shows, wherein hosts and guests discuss certain topics for listeners to tune in to. Sports podcasts have been around for a long time as well. One of the oldest and well-known NBA podcasts titled The Starters has been creating content for years with its hosts, J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas, delving into the league’s major games and off-court drama.

As time has passed, the number of sports podcasts has only grown. There are now podcasts for nearly every sport, every league, and even many sports teams specifically. For instance, the Locked On NBA collection features many different podcasts for each NBA team; in this way, a Boston Celtics fan, for example, can find content solely for their team from the Locked On Celtics podcast, hosted by John Karalis. 

Every program can cover a wide range of topics. In fact, there are many podcasts that release new content every day. Sports podcasts typically feature conversations about thrilling games, dramatic highlights, impressive players, exciting drafts and trades. As such, each sports podcast is versatile in its content, always keeping the fans engaged.

Another novel feature that sports podcasts possess is the ease at which fans can consume their content. Unlike talk shows or television programs, podcasts only appeal to one of our senses—our hearing—which enables listeners and fans to tune into podcasts whenever and wherever they want. An F1 fan, for instance, could listen to the podcast F1: Beyond the Grid while on the drive home, making traffic more bearable. This makes podcasts not only engaging, but convenient to access, allowing fans to stay hooked and updated with the sports that they love. 

Behind the voices

Another feature that makes sports podcasts so engaging is the personalities behind the voices. Given that sports podcasts cannot visually show highlight reels or action shots, the hosts have to be all the more entertaining and have the ability to hold the listener’s attention. 

The amount of sports podcasts available now also comes with a wide variety of hosts. There are many sports podcasts that are hosted by well-known journalists or reporters of specific sports. The Lowe Post features one of the resident NBA writers, Zach Lowe, while The Rich Eisen Show is hosted by Rich Eisen, a former ESPN broadcaster, who discusses NFL-related topics. 

With personalities such as Lowe and Eisen behind the microphones, listeners find a sense of relatability. These hosts still provide an outsider’s view of sports, but they also offer new insights, as they have been in the game, behind the scenes, and doing their jobs for many years.

On the other hand, there are also other hosts who have first-hand experiences of everything they talk about—these are the professional athletes. After professional athletes retire, still deeply in love with the game, some of them turn to punditry, and even podcasts. For instance, the Ross Tucker Football Podcast features the former NFL athlete, Ross Tucker, giving his insights on the game he used to play for years. 

It is not only former athletes who can host podcasts—even current athletes can do this as well. The Big Swing Podcast, for instance, is hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Ross Stripling alongside Cooper Surles, a long time sports fan. These kinds of podcasts offer a different kind of spirit to their shows; their hosts have the unique ability to draw from their own experiences to analyze the sports they know much about. 

The voices behind the podcasts hold so much personality and knowledge to keep fans listening. These podcasts and their unique hosts act as the middle men for fans to stay connected to in-game moments, off-the-court scenes, and fresh perspectives on their favorite sports. Though sports podcasts only appeal to the ears, they nevertheless still find their way to the hearts of fans.

Local voices

When the entirety of Luzon was placed under quarantine in March, it came as no surprise that all of the local sports leagues had to impose a hiatus for preventive measure. Because of this, there was virtually little to no leeway for local journalists to produce any sort of sports content in the long run. However, an untapped local media market was ripe for the taking in the form of soundwaves. The burgeoning podcast culture, in this bizarre time of self-isolation, managed to make its way to the Filipinos seeking any trace of sports content, even for just an hour a day.

“There’s been an increase in the demand for alternative content. Podcasts are an easy way to supply that demand,” discusses Polo Bustamante, online editor for SLAM Philippines and one-third of the legendary cast of From the Stands (FTS)—a basketball podcast hosted by fellow sports media mainstays Chuck Araneta and Carlo Pamintuan.

The triumvirate had started producing FTS since the early years of the previous decade, but discontinued in 2015 to focus on different ventures. However, with the world caught in a standstill, they decided to reopen shop. 

“Chuck, Carlo, and I still have a lot of stories, discussions, breakdowns, and segments that we believe are interesting to fans of the game like us,” Bustamante expresses. 

FTS takes a conversational approach to their chosen topic, basketball. The upward trend of streaming services has also seen podcast popularity growing. Much like the shows on Netflix and the songs on Spotify, podcast episodes can be consumed on demand, and unlike traditional radio, one can always go back to past episodes. 

The ease of content creation has further enabled the podcasting scene to flourish with much material. Bustamente elaborates, “With the new technology today, podcasts are easier to execute and deliver. The production and editing demands are less than video content. They’re also easier to consume with less data consumption.”

Apart from the practical features of both producing and consuming podcasts, the real beauty of podcasts lies in the ability to lend a friend to the listener. For sports enthusiasts, sports podcasts provide them with individuals with the same interests as them and could make one feel as though they are part of the conversation. This ultimately cultivates an inclusive environment bridging host and audience. 

“FTS has always been a passion project of mine,” Bustamente affirms. He adds that podcast production has always been about “connecting with people [one has] never met before on a common level”—that is, a shared love for a certain sport.

Other sports journalists have stepped into their makeshift home recording studios; SLAM Philippines Editor in Chief and UAAP Announcer Nikko Ramos’ Call to Arms and ESPN TV5 Host Aaron Atayde’s Jump Thru Hoops join the crop of local basketball-focused podcasts. What’s Your Point?, hosted by Migs Flores and Camille Naredo, focuses on UAAP volleyball. In Go Hard Girls, SLAM Philippines writer and former NCAA courtside reporter Ceej Tantengco highlights the revolution of women in Philippine sports.

The pandemic and the unusual state it has left the world in will expectedly be over one way or another, and sports will go back to regular programming. Bustamante has high hopes of sports podcasts staying relevant and being in it for the long run. “I’m hoping that all the podcasts that popped up during the [quarantine] continue when all of this is done. Having more fellow podcasters only lifts the entire industry,” he shares. 

Indeed, with the sheer amount of local talent currently in the fray, sports podcasting is in great hands, possibly signifying a welcome evolution in sports media content.

By Annika Cañiza

By Gabriel Minamedez

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