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Today At A Glance:

New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce is in its second season and is already off to a hot start. The NFL podcast has topped the sports charts for over a year, and the Kelce brothers are building a legitimate media business for retirement. So today’s newsletter will examine the podcast’s origins, the money behind a top sports podcast, the company that makes them go viral, the rise of athlete-hosted podcasts, and more.

This newsletter is also available via podcast on Apple or Spotify. Enjoy!

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The sports media landscape has changed a lot over the last several years. TV has become less important, of course. And many professional athletes are now using podcasts to capitalize on their audience and build a media asset for retirement.

But there is just one problem: most of these podcasts aren’t actually any good.

“There are some players who do podcasts, and they’re crap. Absolute crap,” Pat McAfee said during The Pat McAfee Show last week. “They don’t say anything. They’re literally stealing money from whoever is giving them money to do the podcast. So for that, we applaud though. Good hustle. Good racket. Way to do it. But also, your show stinks. Let’s maybe do some stuff. If you’re going to do a show, let’s do it.”

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Maybe that’s harsh, but Pat is right. The dirty secret is that many athletes are being paid six figures (and sometimes seven figures) to host podcasts for media companies.

These athletes don’t come up with topics. They don’t own the intellectual property. They don’t manage ad sales. They don’t talk to the editors. They don’t worry about growth. And I would argue that most don’t even care about the show’s success.

So why is this happening? Well, many people are trying to recreate the success of New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce, The Pat McAfee Show, JJ Redick, and others.

The origin story of the New Heights podcast goes back several years. Philadelphia Eagles all-pro lineman Jason Kelce had traveled from Philadelphia to Kansas City to see his all-pro tight end brother Travis play in a game for the Kansas City Chiefs.

After the game, the Kelce brothers and Travis’ manager, Aaron Eanes, went to dinner. They sat at the table for hours and “bantered about different schemes to block premier defensive linemen,” joking that this conversation would make a great podcast.

“It was the funniest shit I ever heard,” says Kelce’s manager and president of A&A Management Aaron Eanes. “When I was sitting there, I’m like, OK, that is literally the show. Being a fly on the wall for their dinner conversations.”

But then things really took off when Santa Monica-based media company Wave Sports + Entertainment (WSE) pitched the Kelce brothers on a show.

The concept was simple: Jason and Travis Kelce would record weekly episodes on their off-day during the NFL season. They were free to talk about whatever they wanted and could do it all from a temporary studio set up in their own homes.

WSE would then be in charge of the show’s production and distribution, using their huge social media following — WSE owns the “Jukes” brand, which has 2.4 million followers on Instagram and 3.3 million followers on TikTok — to gain listeners.

And the best part? It worked. WSE has pumped out hundreds of short-form, stackable clips across TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube Shorts, resulting in 3.5 million new followers for the New Heights social channels just one year after launch.

New Heights Social Media Following

  • YouTube: 895k subscribers

  • Instagram: 669k followers

  • TikTok: 1.6 million followers

  • Twitter: 160.2k followers

  • Facebook: 188k followers

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The New Heights Podcast — a play on Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where the Kelce brothers grew up — immediately shot up the charts.

During its first season, New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce was consistently ranked as a Top 5 sports podcast on Apple and Spotify. It held the #1 sports podcast on Spotify for four straight months. It was featured during primetime segments on Monday Night Football and was even voted Sports Illustrated’s podcast of the year.

New Heights is also making a lot of money. The show reportedly charges up to 100% higher CPMs than the industry standard for podcasts. Their inventory is sold out months in advance, working with blue chip sponsors like DraftKings, LinkedIn, and Athletic Greens. And they also sold six figures of merchandise within weeks of launch.

Top 4 Most-Watched New Heights Episodes On YouTube

  • The Patrick Mahomes Episode (3.4 million views)

  • The Shannon Sharpe Episode (2.1 million views)

  • The Julian Edelman Episode (1.9 million views)

  • The Jalen Hurts Episode (1.8 million views)

And the show has opened up other opportunities for them, too. The Kelce Brothers recently starred in a nationwide commercial for Campbell’s Soup with their mom. Amazon Prime has also released a documentary titled “Kelce,” which follows Jason Kelce’s 2022 season, including the Super Bowl matchup against his brother. And Travis Kelce has even reportedly been spending time with Taylor Swift (lol).

Now, many other athletes have and will try to copy this approach. WSE, for instance, has already said they want to build a podcast network around this idea, using their production capabilities and social distribution to help athletes launch media careers.

But distribution is only one part of the equation. A large reason why New Heights is so successful is because Jason and Travis Kelce are actually talented. The conversation flows naturally (probably because they are brothers!). The content has a behind-the-scenes feel, and they are great at digging interesting content out of their guests.

And with the Kelce brothers recently signing up for the NFL’s broadcast boot camp, this podcast has become a huge audition tape for their post-NFL career.

Current Athlete-Driven Podcasts

  • The Pat McAfee Show

  • The Old Man and The Three (JJ Redick)

  • Podcast P with Paul George

  • The Draymond Green Show

  • The Pivot Podcast (Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder, and Fred Taylor)

  • Bussin With The Boys (Taylor Lewan and Will Compton)

  • Let’s Go! with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray

  • I Am Athlete (Brandon Marshall)

  • All The Smoke with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson

  • The Dale Jr. Download (Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

  • The Edge with Micah Parsons (first episode aired this past week)

  • The St. Brown Bros Podcast (Amon-Ra and Equanimeous St. Brown)

  • The Warner House (Fred and Sydney Warner — brand new)

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And I also think it’s worth pointing out that there are different approaches.

Take Pat McAfee, for instance. He was a punter in the NFL, and that lifestyle doesn’t typically lend itself to building a massive fanbase. But McAfee built an online audience that turned into one of the country’s most prominent sports shows, and now ESPN (traditional TV) is paying him $85 million over five years to license his content for 10 hours per week.

JJ Redick is another excellent example. He teamed up with Yahoo Sports in 2016 to become the first active NBA player to host a weekly podcast. Redick then took the show to Uninterrupted, then The Ringer, and eventually launched “The Old Man and The Three in 2020 through his own production company, ThreeFourTwo Productions.

But instead of giving up TV for podcasts, Redick has continued his weekly duties at ESPN during the NBA season, extracting a portion of their audience for his show.

So my point is simple: the lines between sports media continue to blur, and it’s no longer an either/or mindset. The most successful shows are leveraging traditional verticals like cable TV to build their own platforms — and that’s not going to stop.

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I hope everyone has a great weekend. We’ll talk on Monday.

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Huddle Up is a 3x weekly newsletter that breaks down the business and money behind sports. If you are not already a subscriber, sign up and join 100,000+ others who receive it directly in their inbox each week.