Tuesday November 28, 2023

ESPN Daily & Host Pablo Torre Look to Grow on Success in Second Year

ESPN to Move More Written Content Behind ESPN+ Paywall
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

In its first year, ESPN Daily — the network’s flagship podcast — reeled in millions of listeners and saw sizable change. 

Though the program has seen more than 25 million total downloads since its launch in October 2019, the experienced production staff that ESPN hired exclusively for the project labored — like much of ESPN’s staff — through many months without any live sports games. 

On top of that, midway through the summer, host Mina Kimes — one of the network’s most prolific personalities — left to join “NFL Live.” Her friendship with writer and TV host Pablo Torre earned him attention from management, who greenlit the switch between the two hosts. Then, games came back all at once.

That all created a busy, challenging first 12 months for a podcast ESPN has high hopes for.

“We as a company feel really good about the content and the [stories] that we’re telling there,” said Tom Ricks, ESPN’s vice president of audio. “From a performance standpoint, is it where we wanted it to be a year out? I’m the kind of person who says we can always do better.” 

When the show launched last fall, ESPN hired multiple new producers to work exclusively on the project alongside Kimes. At the time, ESPN Vice President of Content Connor Schell said the show would give sports fans a “deeper understanding of the biggest sports story of the moment” using Kimes’ “insight, curiosity and wit.” 

Audiences will recognize Torre for his poetic, boisterous sports takes and his unique talent for weaving broader society into the discussion of sports. Though his voice shines through now, the show has maintained its structure and style in large part since he took over. Now with live sports back on nightly, the bigger adjustment has been choosing what to concentrate on.

“It helps sometimes because we have a schedule of shows and we have to cover [certain topics] and sometimes it’s very obvious,” Torre said. “Sometimes we know we have to do x, y and z because that’s clearly the hugest story in sports. But I found that keeping up with everything is really hard, so I relish the responsibility we have.”

Erin Vail, one of the show’s half-dozen producers, acknowledged the challenge is greater for a show that aims to look forward more than backward.

NFL, Audible Team Up for 'Beyond The Last Dance' Podcast

NBA, Audible Team Up for Podcast Series ‘Beyond The Last Dance’

The series of 40-minute episodes will “explore additional storylines” from “The Last…
August 26, 2020

“Because we’re a daily show, we don’t want to get out of date,” Vail said, adding “so we want to be previewing something as opposed to covering what’s already been dissected by every person in sports media and every show on every channel.”

While that may occasionally mean listeners look elsewhere to understand the ramifications of a key “Monday Night Football” game, it also gives ESPN Daily space to be creative with audio storytelling and try to dictate the sports conversation of the day rather than respond to it.

“We get to present all of these crazy stories day after day, and no day feels empty or like a stretch,” Torre said. “There’s too much to cover, and that’s a good problem to have if your job is to tell stories.”

Shows like the Sept. 10 episode entitled “The Anthem in Sports: What’s Next” give Torre and his producers freedom to lean more into Torre’s past as a magazine reporter and weave different types of audio and music into the show. The show integrated interviews with an African-American historian, jazz musician Jon Batiste, and Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce. Vail said that while The Daily by the New York Times is a heavy reference point, that episode was more like an NPR sociology special. The breadth of styles is what ESPN Daily hopes to continue to make good on in its second year.

At the same time, as with anything in which ESPN invests heavily, there are high expectations. Comparing oneself to The Daily — perhaps the biggest podcast on the planet — is an incredibly high standard. According to data provided to Front Office Sports, ESPN has averaged two million downloads per month for ESPN Daily, with an estimated unique audience of 500,000. The audience, ESPN said, is growing 10% month over month. 

“We’re certainly not there, but sports being a niche audience to some degree, I feel pretty good about what we’ve done there,” Ricks said, adding he’d have liked the audience to be double or triple what it was in the first year on air.

It’s no wonder ESPN is shooting high considering much of parent company Disney’s business was hampered by the pandemic. Cruises were docked, parks and movie theaters shuttered, and production halted around the globe. For the most part, only “SportsCenter” continued to air live from Bristol, Conn. in the early days of stay-at-home orders. Podcasts were one of the only other pieces of content unaffected.

In fact, Vail said it’s easier to produce the show from home. Scheduling time for Kimes and a guest in a studio in Los Angeles could be laborious. Vail now simply shoots Torre and the day’s guest a link to Squadcast, an online production platform, Torre steps into his wife’s padded closet — which now moonlights as his makeshift studio — and the show is on.

“It’s important to have corporate support, it’s important to have ambition, it’s important to have resources, it’s important to have the ability to go to someone like Dr. Fauci,” Torre said, referencing an early episode he did in which the nation’s most famous doctor discussed the return of sports. 

“I did that before I even joined full-time, so immediately I got the sense that the potential for this thing is pretty real. Our medium, podcasting, I consider it the most future-proofed of all the media that I do, because it’s on my phone. … The expectation level was very obvious from the start.”

Still, ESPN believes it can do more with the show. Apple’s charts show ESPN Daily routinely ranked in the top 20s or 30s among sports podcasts, behind more niche ESPN podcasts like The Lowe Post, which solely covers the NBA. The show does better on Spotify, but still rarely cracks the top 10. 

Podcasting metrics are notoriously fickle, as there is no standardized system like Nielsen to measure podcast listenership across all platforms.

Greg Olsen

Q&A: Blue Wire CEO On How Podcasting Is Shifting Sports Media

In 2018, Kevin Jones felt launching a localized podcast network built around…
August 25, 2020

However, ESPN in late October announced that the show’s monthly listenership had doubled since its launch in 2019. 

“It’s less about the numbers and more about the best stories we can tell and telling the most important stories on any given day,” Vail said. “Obviously, we want to pay attention to that sort of thing because it is important and we have built a pretty substantial fanbase and a pretty strong following … but it’s more about the content than the numbers.”

Colored by his experience with the relatively short-lived talk show “High Noon,” which he co-hosted with Bomani Jones, Torre said he tries not to let his approach be dictated by listenership to one episode or another.

Most often, he said, those numbers can be affected by “behavioral patterns” or what else was on TV or on social media that day. 

ESPN has empowered this group to tell great stories and learn as they go. Executives believe growth will come when the audience makes a habit of listening and gets more comfortable with Torre.

As ESPN settles into a more routine sports schedule once again, much attention will be paid to whether ESPN Daily can deliver on the resources committed to it and expectations set for it.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Greg Olsen's Coaching Ambitions Could Shake Up Fox Sports' NFL Broadcasts

The current No. 1 analyst could be a candidate for a head coaching job with the Carolina Panthers.

ESPN Investors Not A Sure Thing, Disney CEO Says

Disney is exploring selling a stake in ESPN.
Jalen Hurts

ESPN Draws NFL's Biggest TV Audience Of The Year

The network's telecast of Eagles at Chiefs averaged over 29 million viewers.
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen of The Netherlands during the Las Vegas Grand Prix at Las Vegas Strip Circuit.

F1 Las Vegas Overnight Race Posts Strong Viewership

ESPN’s presentation of the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix averaged 1.3M viewers.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Reich’s Firing Sign of Tepper-Fueled Chaos in Carolina


Featured Today

Lane Kiffin

Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin Lawyers Argue for Dismissal of Player Lawsuit

FOS obtained audio of Lane Kiffin's interaction with the player behind lawsuit.
LSU Lady Tigers head coach Kim Mulkey reacts against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the NCAA Womens Basketball Final Four National Championship at American Airlines Center.
November 6, 2023

Who Is The Highest-Paid Women’s College Basketball Coach?

LSU rewarded Kim Mulkey after winning a national title after her second year leading the program.
The Pac-12’s Collapse Will Have Ripple Effects on College Basketball.
November 6, 2023

The Pac-12’s Collapse Will Have Ripple Effects on College Basketball

The existing Pac-12 host a college basketball season for the last time.
Favre Presley
November 3, 2023

Brett Favre Controversy Casts Shadow Over Mississippi Gubernatorial Race

Candidate Brandon Presley has made the scandal one of his talking points.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Multiple - USA Careers
Multiple - USA Careers
Kroenke Sports Enterprises
Multiple - USA Careers
Green Bay Packers tight end Tucker Kraft celebrates a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.

Football Dominates Thanksgiving, With A Side Of Basketball

Fox got its highest viewership for college basketball ever.
NASCAR president Steve Phelps speaks to the media prior to practice for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
November 28, 2023

NASCAR Set To Add At Least One New Broadcast Partner

Previous reports suggest that NASCAR will lean into streaming.
November 28, 2023

Sports Illustrated’s AI Controversy: What We Know, What’s Next

Union, corporate issues heightened amid AI-related controversy.

USGA’s Amanda Weiner on Delivering
Personalized Fan Experiences with
 AI and Automation

How the USGA is using AI to streamline content creation and distribution.
Covers of Sports Illustrated with photographs by Walter Iooss Jr. are on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art Thursday, March 3, 2022.
November 28, 2023

Sports Illustrated Reportedly Used AI to Create Stories

SI reportedly used AI to create articles and author profiles for stories.
November 26, 2023

Despite Lopsided Thanksgiving Games, NFL Continues Its TV Dominance

The Cowboys' win over the Commanders drew more than 40 million viewers.
amazon black friday nfl game. dolphins vs. jets.
November 23, 2023

Amazon Wants Black Friday NFL Viewers to Stay Seated — and Shop

Interactive ads will target a couch-ridden audience in a tryptophan daze.
November 21, 2023

NASCAR's Streaming Ambitions Could Be Final Piece Of Media Rights Puzzle

NASCAR is in the final stages of media rights negotiations.