Religion of Sports has carved out a steady foothold in the sports documentary space and is now using that position to expand into new areas. The company’s audio division launched three narrative podcasts in 2021 and has a fourth debuting later this month.
“The path to get to our lane in audio probably took us a little longer than we expected,” said Religion of Sports CEO Ameeth Sankaran. “Because we don’t already have massive credibility in that area, we needed to hire great talent and show something, or have something someone can listen to in this case, and use that to build momentum.”
The push to pick up speed began in earnest at the start of last year, when Religion of Sports hired former Sports Illustrated writers Ben Baskin, Joan Niesen and Tim Rohan after layoffs at the magazine. Then, in October 2020, Religion of Sports partnered with podcast distributor PRX. This year, Religion of Sports released the seven-part “False Idol” about Oscar Pistorius, steroid era retrospective “Crushed” and sports mystery show “Lost in Sports.”
Its fourth show of the year, “Man in the Arena,” will debut Nov. 16 as a companion podcast to the ESPN+ docuseries of the same name, which debuts the same day. The podcast will examine the wide-ranging impact of NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s career. “Whether you love him, you hate him or you’re indifferent, you’ve spent the last 20 years thinking about this person every week,” said Adam Schlossman, Religion of Sports co-executive producer of audio.
Religion of Sports has plans to continue expanding its audio offerings heading into 2022. In August, the company hired Steve Nelson, former NPR senior director of programming, to oversee the launch of its talk podcasts, which are seen as the avenue to generating a financial return on audio. “You’re not going to reach profitability with just narrative shows,” said Schlossman, who noted that ads are typically sold before a narrative podcast’s launch, so there’s often little opportunity to cash in on big audiences after the fact. “The talk side of audio will get you frequency, and it will get you closer to profitability.”
Religion of Sports’ audio slate for next year is still being developed, but Schlossman anticipates there will be a roughly 50-50 split between narrative and talk shows. Long term, the hope is to have around seven narrative shows per year.