Former Cy Young winner CC Sabathia was announced as the latest addition to The Ringer and Spotify on July 28, signaling a further push into the sports space for the audio streaming giant and the growing potential in podcasts for athletes.
“R2C2,” the three-year-old podcast featuring the six-time All-Star and broadcaster Ryan Ruocco, will release one or two episodes per week year-round. The duo chat with athlete and celebrity guests about a wide range of topics – including the current MLB season – and comment on the sports world at large.
Previously, “R2C2” spent time at The Players’ Tribune and Uninterrupted, both dedicated athlete empowerment platforms founded by superstar players. But the podcast has even bigger aspirations.
“Obviously, exposure and growth are big catalysts here,” said Mark Lepselter, Sabathia’s agent and principal at Maxx Sports & Entertainment Group. “And I think that CC has a competitive nature and certainly wants to see the podcast grow and expand its reach. … Giving it the ability to have more branding behind it, more advertising behind it, more, resources behind it.”
In September 2019, Spotify began ramping up its sports content. The company hired former CBS News president David Rhodes as a consultant to develop its original audio programming strategy, and brought on former Facebook head of sports media partnerships Amy Hudson to lead sports podcasting efforts.
Then in February, the company acquired Bill Simmons’ sports and pop-culture outlet The Ringer for approximately $200 million. As of January 2019, the company’s podcast network built around Simmons’ flagship show drew 35 million downloads per month.
Podcasting is an ideal outlet for the 40-year-old Sabathia, who got into the TV and radio business with a one-year deal at ESPN in his final season as an active ballplayer for the New York Yankees. The new deal keeps Sabathia’s audio exclusive to the two companies, spans multiple years, and includes other forthcoming content with Spotify and The Ringer, Lepselter said.
While he is free to seek out a new TV gig, which is the typical route for players of his caliber with media acumen, Sabathia said on Simmons’ podcast July 28 that it’s unlikely he’ll do so in a traditional way because of his predilection for using colorful language. Inherent to any new ventures will be an ability for Sabathia to be himself.
“He’s got a charismatic personality, but to go along with that charismatic personality, he’s a no-bulls— kind of guy, and I think people respect who he is as a person, what he accomplished as an athlete, and what he stands for overall,” Lepselter added. “I think that ties into why he’s an interesting listen, on the podcast in particular, but on other platforms overall – in interviews and different things that he’s done, and is doing, and will do in the future.”
The Ringer has brought in multiple established sports shows and talent since the Spotify deal, deviating to an extent from its earlier mode of creating new shows for its internal, often homegrown talent.
In June, the podcast network added “Stadio” – a global soccer podcast founded in August 2019 by Berlin-based bloggers Ryan Hunn and Musa Okwonga – and a podcast from baseball bloggers Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, known for their work as the “Cespedes Family BBQ” for Cut4 and DAZN.
“When an opportunity to add a show with a proven track record like R2C2 presented itself, we jumped at the opportunity,” a spokesman for The Ringer said. “CC and Ryan are excellent hosts, whose baseball insight has immediately made our network stronger.”
Adding a podcast with a well-known athlete, like “R2C2,” also isn’t without precedent at The Ringer.
In 2019, the company debuted “Winging It” with NBA players Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore – the latter left after the first season and Carter has since retired from playing, but continues to do the show. NBA veteran JJ Redick also has a Ringer podcast, which moved to the network from Uninterrupted in 2017.
On August 3, the company announced the addition of a weekly “The Ringer NBA Show” podcast episode with staff writer Logan Murdock, a new hire, and retired NBA veteran Raja Bell.
But, Sabathia – who also recently joined Roots of Fight to create a clothing line to honor Black baseball icons – has looked to carve out an alternate route in the modern sports media landscape, on his terms.
“I think he’s going to be a guy who’s a content creator who fits where the space is going right now,” Lepselter added. “He’s a real guy and I think people know that – it’s clear. There’s no fraud to CC Sabathia.”