As the future of the 2019-2020 NBA season remains in the balance, sports teams are using this hiatus to deepen their connection with not only their fans but their players as well.
Although it launched last October, the Utah Jazz is using their Utah Jazz Podcast Network as an outlet for players to broaden their off-the-court reach and skills.
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“Our players have obviously been focused on keeping themselves healthy and making sure that their family and those close to them are healthy,” Bart Sharp, the Jazz’s senior vice president of marketing, said. “But they’ve also expressed a desire to try and provide some sense of normalcy and entertainment to our fan base during this time and wanted to find ways in which they can help people during this unique period.”
Already, some of the Jazz’s most well-known players are lending a hand to help produce content for the team. Utah rolled out its first player-specific podcast series, Ingles Insight, centered around Jazz shooting guard Joe Ingles, on March 21. The fifth-year player out of Adelaide, South Australia, is accompanied on Ingles Insight by his wife, Renae Ingles.
The inaugural episode had more than 11,000 downloads in the first week, over 200 five-star reviews, and was the second-most popular basketball podcast in the United States on Apple Music, Sharp said.
The original intent behind it was for fans to get a closer look into the Ingles’ family life, Sharp said. The issues that the Ingles discuss range from Joe’s travel schedule as a professional athlete to bringing more awareness to autism spectrum disorder, which affects one of their two children.
Given the current climate, the Ingles are also discussing COVID-19. Ingles Insight‘s most-recent episode featured Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah’s state epidemiologist, who spoke about ways of combating the coronavirus and educating others on the benefit of social distancing and what they can do to control the spread.
Sharp believes that Ingles Insight not only sheds light on the Ingles’ day-to-day lives but also highlights their personalities during this challenging time.
“Joe is very clever,” Sharp said. “He’s good-spirited, but one of the things that I think is unique about this is how great Renae is on this podcast. I think Joe would probably even say that Renae is the star of the show. I think it is something great for our entire fanbase to see that not only the player, Joe, takes a spotlight, but also to have his wife be involved and have some really meaningful stories and insights to share that are very relatable.”
Another new video podcast series hosted by Utah power forward Georges Niang, Drive and Dish, launched its first episode on Tuesday, March 31.
Filmed out of Niang’s home and recorded through Zoom, Drive And Dish is described by Sharp as an “interview-style” podcast. The first episode saw Niang talk with teammate Jordan Clarkson about what is going on right now in a basketball-less world: what Clarkson is doing during the quarantine, his various tattoos, his distinct fashion taste, and other topics.
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After the debut of Drive And Dish, Sharp and the Jazz are preparing for another podcast series starring both Niang and Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell’s inclusion into the Jazz’s content strategy comes at a unique time in the player’s life. Less than three weeks ago, he tested positive for coronavirus alongside teammate Rudy Gobert, whose positive test caused the NBA to suspend its season indefinitely.
With both Gobert and Mitchell cleared of any coronavirus-related symptoms, the Jazz are looking to also include them more prominently in their contest. In addition to Mitchell’s involvement with the Niang podcast, he and Gobert have also released PSAs on stopping the spread of the virus.
While Gobert’s initial mockery of the coronavirus pandemic rubbed people the wrong way, it had no significant effect on the Jazz’s content approach, Sharp said.
“I wouldn’t say it had much of an impact on anything that we were doing other than just increased emphasis to help our local government and health officials share the facts about it,” he said. “Obviously that created a little bit of a domino effect, and that’s where I think there was some greater understanding from the public of what was going on with COVID-19, and so our desire just became to be an avenue or another medium to be able to share the facts.”
The player-specific podcasts with Ingles, Mitchell, and Niang serve as a continuation of the Jazz’s interests last summer in growing their Utah Jazz Podcast Network. Ahead of the regular season, the team rolled out two other podcasts, Roundball Roundup, and The Note.
Roundball Roundup, which keeps fans up-to-date on what is going on with the team, has generated more than 422,250 downloads since October 1, the most of any Jazz podcast. The Note, which details the background behind significant moments throughout the team’s history, has seen nearly 4,500 downloads during that same stretch.
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Although it took some time to get players more deeply involved with the team’s podcasts, Sharp is happy that they are working with the organization to give fans a respite during an otherwise scary time in the country.
“We all know that sports can provide a measurement of healing,” Sharp said. “What I’ve been appreciative of is our athletes recognizing the role that they play in providing that healing and that relief for our community.”
“There’s a hunger, and there’s a dark drive to try and find that reprieve,” he added. “That’s what our players understand – there’s more to this than basketball, and they can provide some of that benefit.”