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Opinion: The five top sports podcasts begin with Baseball Tonight, hosted by ESPN’s Buster Olney

In a littered landscape, the online programming runs the gamut from the dependable Colin Cowherd to the younger skewing Katie Nolan

In 1964, the late Bill Mazer, a legendary New York based radio and television sports personality, fielded this question from a youngster calling in to his show. “Who’s better? Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?” While this question could spark hours of debate, it started 55-plus years of on-air sports discussions.

Mazer hosted New York’s first two-way sports-talk radio show. One might argue, that two-way talk was the birth of social media.

Sports-talk has long been a way for budding broadcasters to find their voices and for avid sports fans to get their fix for in-depth information. The medium has transformed through the years. Some sports talk radio shows are now simulcast on some form of video, be it cable or online. 

Many aspiring sportscasters today begin by producing podcasts which is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t require having to move to the hinterlands to get an entry level job 

The podcast industry is booming, as revealed by a 2019 study. Over half of Americans have listened to a podcast and one-third (approximately 90 million) have listened to at least one in the past month. While not all of these were sports podcasts, the industry is continuing to grow continually, year after year. Even The Athletic, which was originally branded as sports journalism that’s exclusively print, now produces several podcasts on its website.

Podcasts are convenient for both those recording them and for those listening. For broadcasters who produce podcasts, the period between recording and posting them provides ample time to edit and perfect the show. This is especially appealing for up-and-coming hosts who might be intimidated at the idea of starting a live format. It gives them a legitimate shot to put their best foot forward.

Listeners are able to listen at their own convenience, not only at an appointed time. If they choose, they can also skip to specific segments of interest rather than having to listen to the entire show.

Take The Herd with Colin Cowherd for example. While the show is broadcast live both on television and radio through Fox Sports, two versions of the show are posted as a podcast. One version contains the show in its entirety with the exclusion of commercial breaks that occur during the live broadcast. The other contains some of the best segments of the day in about half the time. It’s perfect for those who only want the highlights. It’s no surprise that in a sports media landscape that thrives in showing game highlights, even talk show highlights have gained popularity.

Many sports broadcasters have stories to tell, like Vin Scully, who did so entertainingly for decades during games. But play-by-play announcers are often limited by the flow of the game action.

While many established podcasts contain commercials, there’s still enough flexibility for podcasters to tell their stories in their entirety, without interruption.

One of the biggest drivers of sports podcasts comes from fans’ insatiable desire for statistics, especially in the era of fantasy sports. According to a 2017 article in The Washington Post, 21 percent of people in North America play fantasy sports, equivalent to approximately 59.3 million between the United States and Canada, according to a 2017 article in The Washington Post.

Live broadcasts do include more and more statistical analysis but it’s hard to beat the level of analysis that podcasts explore and share. For busy fans trying to gain as much of an edge for their fantasy activity, this dense analysis might be exactly what they need.

From the casual fan to the avid statistician, there’s something for everyone when it comes to podcasting, and it can be hard to sort through the variety. Here are some of the most popular podcasts, as well as some up-and-comers within the industry.

 

Network-Established

  1. (No. 1 Overall) Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney (ESPN): Similar to the former ESPN television program of the same name, Buster Olney hosts a daily podcast to run through news and notes from around Major League Baseball. The show begins with highlights from around the league featuring calls from team broadcasters and follows with guests to discuss talking points of the day, such as Little League’s partnership with Major League Baseball and debates about extended netting. The show is geared toward an audience that wants to keep up with news from around baseball without an excessive amount of fluff.
  2. (No. 4 Overall) The Herd with Colin Cowherd (Fox Sports): Colin Cowherd’s radio and television show filled with hot takes and an unapologetic personality is available on-demand for listeners who want to hear the entire show and for those who only want to hear the highlights. Cowherd and Joy Taylor feature interviews with a variety of sports figures, like headliners Baker Mayfield and Lavar Ball.
  3. (No. 5 Overall) Sports? with Katie Nolan (ESPN): Likely not for hardcore sports fans looking for deep analysis, Katie Nolan’s podcast may appeal to a younger audience of casual sports fans. Nolan and Ashley Braband use humor and personal narratives to engage their audience and to give listeners a feel of being connected to sports figures. Although the podcast skims through important news from around the sports world, it’s fun and informative.

 

Independent Favorites

  1. (No. 2 Overall) RotoWire Fantasy Football Podcast: While RotoWire is a subscription-based fantasy sports database, its daily podcast is available for free and features different hosts each day. Each host has an expertise, affording audiences opportunities to tap into advice covering various types of fantasy football leagues. The podcast is geared toward non-subscribers who can get a taste of the content the database offers, as well as subscribers who can learn how to effectively use the tools available on RotoWire’s website.
  2. (No. 3 Overall) The Fantasy Footballers: One of the most popular fantasy football (and sports) podcasts today, the show began in 2014 and features Andy Holloway, Jason Moore and Mike Wright. The hour-long program takes an in-depth look into fantasy NFL talking points. The podcast is effective for hard-core fantasy football players, although the in-depth content may be cumbersome for those looking to just refine their fantasy team.

 

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Jason Shebilske
Jason Shebilske

Jason Shebilske is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying journalism, including an emphasis in sports communication. In addition to Sports Broadcast Journal, he currently writes for RotoWire, a fantasy sports database in Madison, Wisconsin.

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