When Philadelphia Eagles media executive Jen Kavanagh arrived at the team facility on June 27, she was pulled aside by a player.
What if the Eagles launched a player’s podcast, he asked. What if he served as the star and host?
Kavanagh, the team’s senior vice president of media and marketing, was smiling as she recounted the story in the team’s draft war room later that day – having active players buy into the team’s ambitious podcast strategy is half the battle.
It’s a key part of the Eagles’ evolution beyond just being a football team. They want to be a “global and progressive sports entertainment brand,” according to Kavanagh.
In just five years, the Super Bowl 52 champions have gone from one team podcast to six — with three more in development for this season.
Last year, the Eagles podcasts drew 2 million streams across all platforms during 2018. With nine podcasts expected for 2019, Kavanagh thinks the club can double that.
“We love (players volunteering) because it tells us we’re doing something right. And I think the level of awareness and interest in a lot of these podcasts has really grown in the last several months, especially when they see their teammates having fun with it,” said Kavanagh. “Then, their curiosity is peaked. It goes from, ‘You know, I don’t want to just be a guest…’”
The Eagles’ podcasting push is about more than communicating with fans, according to Kavanagh. Eagles Nation exploded after the team’s upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the team’s first. Fans of the team now feel like proud winners, rather than hard-luck losers. Take U.S. women’s national soccer team star Carli Lloyd shouting “Fly Eagles Fly” during the team’s New York victory ceremony.
Podcasts are a key part of that global strategy, bringing fans inside the Eagles’ South Philly headquarters and training complex, no matter where they live.
“We already know we have fans all over the world. We live in a world collectively where there really are no boundaries anymore. Your fandom is no longer geographically restricted — especially with social media and the way we all connect,” said Kavanagh. “We have an opportunity more than ever before to reach out and connect with those people. Entertainment, and content, is the way we’ll be able to do that.”
The team supplemented that further by playing in London last season, as well as streaming their preseason games to England, Germany and Mexico.
Team podcasts like the Red Zone-focused Eagles Eye in the Sky hosted by Fran Duffy are so intriguing that some New York Giants fans may admit to listening. The podcasts are even breaking news.
During an Eagles Live! podcast with host Dave Spadaro in June, the club’s salary cap guru Jake Rosenberg explained in detail why the club chose to lock up starting quarterback Carson Wentz with a four-year, $128 million contract extension this off-season. The interview was picked up nationally by NBC’s ProFootballTalk.com.
From Spadaro’s point of view, his podcast took off when he focused more on in-depth, long-form interviews with players, coaches and front office executives. These one-on-ones can last 30 minutes. During a department summit this spring, Kavanaugh talked more about podcasts than anything else, he said.
“This is our way of bringing what’s inside the building out to the fan base. Where do I see it going? I don’t know, it’s kind of limitless at this point,” said Spadaro. “We keep coming up with new ideas. We haven’t even gone to stuff like cheerleaders. Or a front office podcast. That could all be done.”
The Eagles’ six current team podcasts are available free on the team’s website and via the team app. They all take a different approach.
The three-year-old Eagles Live!, for example, provides weekly interviews and analysis by Spadaro, a respected insider who’s covered the team since 1987. Feeding the Birds talks about what players eat. Team chefs interview current and former players about their favorite foods. The last episode focused on, what else? Philly cheesesteaks.
A pod under development will chronicle the 86-year old history of the franchise, including the most famous games. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a big foodie, would someday like his own food podcast.
These podcasts are no loss leader for the Eagles, either. Kavanaugh is monetizing her strategy by securing corporate sponsors. Stadium naming rights sponsor Lincoln Financial sponsors Spadaro’s Eagles Live!; Gatorade sponsors Eye in the Sky.
Podcasting is “catching fire in a way that it’s hard to ignore,” said Kavanaugh. “We hear the same thing from brands that are progressive. They ask, ‘How can we do this? How can we make our integration not feel like an old school commercial? How do we make it more meaningful and native to the whole experience?’ The next couple of years are going to be really interesting on that front.”
There’s over 3.5 million Eagles fan in the greater Philly area and close to 8-10 million across the U.S. in states such as Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
In Eagles country of South Jersey, Dr. Emil Steiner serves as coordinator of Rowan University’s new Sports Communication and Media program.
The NFL season never ends, he said. Podcasting is a smart way for sports teams to stay connected to fans year-round.
“The most passionate fans believe they have some role in the outcome of the games. Or at least some ownership in the team,” said Steiner. “The more people are connected to the Eagles ecosystem, the more likely they are to spend money on Eagles-related things. To generate revenue for the team – but also to create excitement and buzz.”
Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi is now a podcaster himself, co-hosting The GM Shuffle with Adnan Virk of DAZN. More NFL teams like the Eagles are embracing podcasting as a smart way to “get your narrative out there – and sell your plan,” said Lombardi.
Players like them because it’s on-the-job training for a possible second career in media. They also allow players who are suspicious of the media to cut out the middleman and talk directly with a friendly team face, he added.
“Players like to get their side of the story out unfiltered,” Lombardi said. “You can talk about the things you want to talk about – in the way you want to talk about them.”