How To Make Your Football Podcast Pay
Meet David Mooney. He's mad into his football. In fact if you looked into his heart, you'd see he literally bleeds blue.
And ten years ago - he had a mad idea to start a podcast with his mate.
Fast forwards to 2019, he's now rocking over 8,000 listeners per episode and even getting paid at least $500 a month to talk about one of his favourite passions - Manchester City football club. And he even wrote a book a few years ago about his team.
But it's taken time, consistency and a lot of learning to get there.
There are so many fan based sports podcasts these days. You could quite literally load your playlist with your sport of choice and still have plenty left on your to-do list.
So how do you make your series really stand out?
What drives the success of one football podcast to another?
Especially when you don't have the name or backing of a major sports broadcaster.
As someone who's presented weekly sports podcasts on a niche sport for a number of years, I know how hard it is to build your tribe and really connect with your community from nothing - without any financial backing.
These types of series take hours to put together. And you learn to think bigger than just your local area, your team - because the beauty of podcasting is that anyone anywhere in the world can find you if they're interested. And that's what really makes it so special without being geo-blocked such as the BBC or the like.
To know that a podcast you make in your spare room ranting about why your team lost their last game is being listened to someone on their way to work as a teacher in New Zealand is pretty darn mind blowing!
So I fired over a few questions to David asking him to share some of the lessons he's learnt over the years, and paint us a picture about figures, equipment and time to help those thinking of starting a fan based podcast know what to expect!
Clare: Why did you start a podcast in the first place?
David: I had just fallen out of university with a 2:1 in Journalism - I'd specialised in radio journalism - and assumed that I'd be snapped up pretty quickly. A few months down the line and with plenty of ignored job applications, I'd been brought down a peg or ten and decided I needed to do something to practise making radio in the mean time. This was in 2009, so podcasts weren't particularly new, but they were still in their infancy - and there wasn't one about Manchester City after the club's official one ended. So I decided to fill the gap.
C:What were your initial aims – and has that changed over the years?
D: This is going to sound paranoid, but as a City fan I wanted to put out some positive coverage of the club in what I felt was a very negative-focused era. We started as two people sitting in my car every fortnight using a handheld radio mic and now we record weekly with a panel of two from a pool of about 30 - and it's a proper radio show with interviews and reports, as well as studio discussion. I don't think the coverage is as pro-City as it was, either - I like to think it's more fan-led journalism, where we'll ask questions and hold to account where perhaps we didn't in the early days.
C: Did you have any broadcasting experience before podcasting?
D: I was a recent graduate, though I can't remember if I'd been on air anywhere by that point. I'd done work experience placements as part of my degree - but I'd been vox popping or script writing rather than doing anything on air. I think my first on-air experience came as a result of doing the podcast, when a local radio station wanted to do a live version of the show with me as a guest. I definitely got my first proper job in radio through the podcast, when I went on to become a journalist at that same radio station in 2011 - and went full time with them in 2014.
C: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?!
D: Planning is vital and edit it down. The times we've gone into the studio with a "we'll busk about that topic" in the running order, then it's always sounded like it's been busked and has needed a huge edit to make it sound even vaguely half-decent. Decide what topics you want to cover, write a series of questions to ask and talk around - actually write questions, don't just write a list of talking points - and then use them to structure the conversation. You don't have to follow your list if the discussion doesn't go that way, but they're always a fall-back for any lulls. Then, when you're finished, trim the fat from the final audio.
C: Which has been your favourite episode?
D: The nature of football and our show means episodes are very disposible. In fact, after 10 full seasons, the first nine seasons aren't online anymore and exist only in my archive at home. But every now and then we do a special that is a bit more timeless and, for the 20th anniversary of City's 1999 Division Two playoff final, we did a documentary looking back at the day - speaking to every single player involved. It was like an extended report from a normal episode of the show, lasting for 60 minutes - with a 30-minute panel discussion afterwards. I genuinely feel like it's the best piece of radio I've ever made...
C: How have you engaged with fans, and they with you?
D: We've tried many things down the years, but it's Twitter we always end up coming back to. We've had emails and forum posts and Facebook and emails again and even a rantline at one point, where listeners could leave a message and we'd play it out on air. But, ultimately, we always get the best response on Twitter and it's one of the easiest ways we've found to get audience questions to the panel.
C: Who is your audience (any specific data you get from your host?) and how has it grown over time?
D: I wish I had data from a lot further back than I do, but I can only really go back to the start of 2018 with accurate data (more on why in a bit!). I suspect in the early days, a lot of our audience were from Manchester or North-West England - but now less than half of our listeners are in the UK (46%) and a sizeable proportion after that are in the USA (29%).
We also know that the majority - more than three-quarters - of our listeners get the show on mobile, which suggests it's listened to while on the move: either commuting or when out and about or, possibly, while travelling to City's matches. Roughly the same number listen through Apple podcasts, though we have only just launched on Spotify.
Gender-wise, the split is overwhelmingly male - though we are trying to appeal to more female City fans! - and the age split is quite interestingly very even. The 45-54s are our biggest group (21.6%), closely followed by the 25-34s (21.1%) and the 35-44s (17.8%).
C: Ever bothered with doing the podcast live either in person with audience or online – or have you just stuck with pre-recs?
D: Yes, we have - but it took some convincing me! Credit for sorting out the first Blue Moon Podcast Live show (and all but one since) has to go to Sam Roscoe. He put the idea forward in 2015 and we booked a room and did it. We managed to get an ex-player on board to join us and Sam set about the technical side of things - organising mics and a mixing desk and producing the promo for it. It's always gone down very well - though has had its technical issues at times... including the time we forgot to record the show. Pro-tip: Get someone to tech op it while you record!
C: How did you go about picking a media host?
D: This was something we should have done a LONG time ago. When we started Blue Moon Podcast in 2009, there were very few - cheap - hosts and because I'd dabbled in learning HTML and writing RSS feeds a few years earlier, I decided to code it myself. We'd upload the show to the main website's server and then I'd update and upload the XML file separately. That habit continued right up to 2018 - where the person behind the Blue Moon website told me exactly how much the bandwidth was costing him!
I spoke to a few other podcasts and switched to AudioBoom that summer. It was good value and it allowed us to easily sync up to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher... all the usual platforms... and that was something we'd not been doing by that point. It also meant we can outsource finding ads to help support the show with some funding.
C: What type of recording equipment and software do you use?
D: I'm a sucker for studio-quality audio, even though I know you can get VERY good audio quality without it. We have a radio studio that we use at a station I do some work for, plus we have another that we have a good deal with for hiring. After that, if we're on location I've a handheld Olympus LS-14 that has always been excellent quality - and I use that to record interviews and press conferences, too. Editing-wise, I'm a big fan of Adobe Audition.
C: How much time do you spend working on the podcast per week?
D: Too much! When the week's games are over, it begins with about 1-2 hours of planning. That's writing scripts and cues to be read in the studio around the pre-recorded items or the talks for the beginning or end of the show. There are always two features in each episode - so times depend entirely on what we're running. Interviews take a few hours to set up, research, get to, record and then edit. Reports are usually a little longer in time, sourcing interview clips, writing and recording the script, and then editing it to music.
Either way, it's usually about 5-6 hours or work before we get to the studio - which is then another two hours, plus about two hours editing. Throw in some social media post scheduling afterwards and we're probably talking about 10-12 hours a week. The vast majority of it is unpaid, too!
C: At what point did you think you might be able to start making money, and how did you go about finding the right path for sponsorship?
D: We're still in the very early days of sponsorship, but we're finding it's quite successful so far. I'm not going to claim we're rolling in cash - the budget for the show is ridiculously stretched - but add that to the Patreon backers we have and we can keep our heads above water. It's not costing me money any more, but in the past 10 years I'd say the show owes me something in the region of £3-4,000. Without the Patreon support in 2016-2018, we probably would have gone under.
Ads-wise, I try not to make them intrusive. I think listeners understand that we need to be able to make money from the show even if it's just to make it pay for itself. I'm freelance, so I'm able to book work around the show - but if I have to work more shifts to cover the costs of the podcast, then the podcast would suffer as a result.
C: How do you decide which companies you’re happy to endorse and which ones you’re not sure of?
D: It's a big moral dilemma. At the moment, we work with a betting company to raise money for charity - though I think if we weren't raising money for charity then it's not something we'd endorse. Beyond that, it's a very simple tick-box with AudioBoom... are you happy for us to find clients in these sectors, yes/no? We restrict alcohol, weapons, politics and gambling.
C: What are your ambitions with the podcast next?!
D: I'd love to be able to make enough money for it to become my job, if only part time. At the moment, I'm having to work what shifts I can to support myself AND do the podcast at the same time. If I could earn enough from it to make it a one/two days a week job, then I'd be delighted.
C: If someone was starting a podcast – what nuggets of advice would you offer a novice?
D: Find your niche and speak to other podcasters. There are so many podcasts out there that you're probably not going to find a topic that's both popular to the masses and not being podcasted about, so check out what the competition are doing and be different. People listen to more than one podcast, so if you're different then you'll stop being competition and begin to supplement each other. My only other bit of advice is to edit the thing and try not to swear too much - you're allowed to swear, but just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Clare Freeman works as a podcast coach and consultant. If your current podcast series needs a vavavoom and shake up, or if you're stuck at the first hurdle of getting started - reach out to Clare from some one-to-one coaching. Prices start from £99 for 90 minutes. More information here.