Inside CBS Sports’ Innovative Podcast Strategy

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CBS Sports - Podcast

Part of being a good sports media brand in 2018 is having an effective strategy beyond just pushing out articles.

CBS Sports is embracing this mentality with content in a variety of formats on a number of platforms. Notably, the brand has been hard at work expanding its offerings and has seen triple-digit audience growth across all of its podcasts this year. Fans who haven’t been subscribing to some of the bigger projects may want to consider jumping on the bandwagon now.

For instance, this season marks the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2008 championship run. Bryant McFadden was a cornerback on that Pittsburgh team and now spends his days as an analyst for CBS Sports HQ. In early November, CBS Sports launched “The Season: 2008 Steelers,” a serialized podcast where McFadden details that magical season week by week (starting at Week 11) with the help of players and coaches who were by his side that year.

Jeff Gerttula, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital, explained how this idea came to fruition.

“The idea was a collaboration,” he said. “Our content team was looking for a good anniversary hook heading into this Super Bowl season for CBS. We realized we had an analyst in Bryant McFadden, who played on the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl team. We ran the idea of revisiting the season by him, and he was very interested, so we decided to run with it and start recording. He still has relationships with many of the coaches and players on that team, and he’s had a lot of great conversations on the episodes we’ve recorded.”

Guests on released episodes of the show include Hines Ward, Ike Taylor, and Lamar Woodley, with coaching legends Dick LaBeau and Bruce Arians (along with other players) slated to appear later this season. The show already has a perfect five-star rating on iTunes.

With the impending success of “The Season” and the serialized aspect still being an easy sell for podcast fans at large, Gerttula believes that the format is something that CBS Sports will explore further down the line, provided that it can offer fans the same peek under the hood they will get with the 2008 Steelers team this season.

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“‘The Season’ falls into a category of podcasts that we will look to do more of in the future — they’re event-driven, around CBS Sports tentpoles, and serialized. With podcasts like ‘The Season,’ we can put a stake in the ground and bring new users into our ecosystem by offering access to these tentpole events.

“We know there’s an enormous audience of Steelers fans, and we’re able to deliver something cool to them with the insider access that we have to this team and their path to the Super Bowl. We’re able to talk to the audience on a more personal level with this kind of podcast.”

In addition to “The Season,” CBS Sports also offers what Gerttula calls their core sports vertical podcasts. This includes shows like “Fantasy Football Today,” “Eye on College Basketball,” and “Pick Six” (an NFL podcast). The brand is also moving some of these shows in new directions in order to better serve fans. “Pick Six,” for example, now offers daily episodes during football season as well as expanding the social content offerings on the @picksixpod social channels.

“One of the goals with the ‘Pick Six’ podcast is to build a brand that’s more than just an audio product,” Gerttula explained. “We have original content on the podcast every morning that’s waiting for you when you wake up, but we also have ‘Pick Six’ social channels, where we can be with you during real-time coverage of games. We give you everything you need to know about what’s happening in the NFL in your inbox each day with our ‘Pick Six’ newsletter; it’s a good template for what we’re trying do with all of our shows.”

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After a podcast succeeds at the daily episodes strategy, live streaming episodes like a traditional radio show as opposed to the usual podcasting route of recording, editing, then releasing is a logical next step. Notably, the brand is going this route with “Off The Bench,” featuring Danny Kanell and Raja Bell, which made its debut in November.

“We launched ‘Off The Bench’ as a podcast last November, and Danny Kanell and Raja Bell really developed a strong chemistry and rapport. They’re able to offer unique insight into the top stories in sports every day as former pro athletes, and we thought it would be a natural fit as a morning show on our new 24/7 streaming network CBS Sports HQ, which launched in February. We first expanded the podcast from three days a week to every weekday before we started streaming it live on HQ in August.”

The lesson here for media brands is to be constantly looking for new ways to highlight the unique voices within the organization. With shows like “The Season” and “Off The Bench,” CBS Sports is continuing to innovate and set itself apart from others in the space competing for the same audience.

“This has been a good year for us to really develop some of our key voices in that space,” Gerttula said. “Our podcasts give us a more personal touch on the news and game coverage, as well as data-driven discussions we have on and CBS Sports HQ. The podcasts give us the ability to do more of something that CBS Sports is known for — storytelling.”