More podcasts debut daily than there is time in a day to make a list of them. Yet a select few in sports continue to have an impact, including ESPN's Fantasy Focus Football. In October, the podcast that features Matthew Berry, Field Yates, and Stephania Bell grew 25 percent to 1.6 million uniques, per ESPN.
What makes this particularly impressive is the podcast often ranks amongst the highest in ratings alongside general sports podcasts with high-profile hosts (Pardon My Take; The Bill Simmons Podcast) and league-specific podcasts that contribute to the rumor mill (The Lowe Post). These all contain topics discussed regularly on daily sports shows, but the fantasy topics are mostly left out of those daily sports shows despite a clear appetite for it. Thus, it's hard to conclude that fantasy football is being appropriately utilized by major networks.
ESPN has a hit with the Fantasy Focus Football podcast, but it isn't nearly as visible across the network or promoted as much as other podcasts. There is virtually no fantasy talk on television outside of the Sunday-morning show that airs on ESPN2 -- and ESPNNEWS -- up against ESPN's NFL pregame show and the two that air on FOX and CBS. There is none on ESPN's daily football show NFL Live, and Berry is never seen on SportsCenter. The Fantasy Show has drawn engagement, but was moved off television and onto ESPN+. ESPN is putting resources into its steaming service, but there is no denying it is still far from being ideal for a studio show of any genre. And ESPN knows this as they moved Always Late with Katie Nolan off it, which has little to no audience or upside.
The argument that digital success doesn't always translate to television definitely exists. It's valid at times. But the evidence here is that this type of content would and does translate. Berry, Yates, and Bell have taken the show on the road several times and have drawn real crowds. I was in attendance for one in Detroit, where there was a line to get into the taping taking up a large section of the sidewalk. Some said they had traveled two or more hours to watch. These same fans can be seen tweeting regularly at the hosts, not just for fantasy advice, but also in a manner you would think they know them personally. The fantasy football audience is dedicated and would follow wherever experts can be seen or heard.
The NFL Network's NFL Fantasy Live often rates better than the much more discussed Good Morning Football on Mondays after the games. This past Monday, the NFL Network's fantasy show drew 162,000 viewers. For comparison, it beat shows that aired on ESPN2 -- The Jump and Jalen & Jacoby -- and was not far off from High Noon - 189,000 on ESPN2. A show the fantasy program has beaten multiple times on Mondays. If ESPN aired a fantasy show with guys off the streets on ESPN2, it would likely beat the NFL Network's. And then you factor in who ESPN could and would have on its version, and it makes literally no sense why they don't pursue that avenue.
ESPN isn't alone. FS1 ignores fantasy football completely. And that is even more puzzling as they are all-in on the NFL and are still trying to build a base. The dedicated and involved fantasy football players are exactly the type of viewers FS1 could use. It would also mesh well and enhance the daily gambling show Lock It In, as gambling content has not yet caught on with the mainstream sports fans like fantasy has. With that said, the future for gambling content appears bright.
Fantasy football is never going to be the needle-mover that general NFL or NBA talk is. But it does have a place, an audience, and is a factor. Incorporating the content into the discussion makes sense on several levels. And this past month is yet more proof it should be.
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