• Saurabh Nagpal

How are podcasts enriching our interaction with sports stars?



How podcasts serve as the “perfect bridge” that allow fans to have an “authentic engagement” with sportspersons was one of the key points that emerged from the discussion among the panellists present in the Swansea University Sports Symposium held recently, virtually.


Charles Lambert, journalist-turned-academic from the University for the Creative Arts, Jess Hayden, women’s rugby columnist for RugbyPass and Maryke Penman, head of PR at Macesport, featured in the discussion that was mediated by Iwan Williams, senior lecturer in the Media department at Swansea University.


The symposium, which was on the overarching theme of the intersection between journalism and PR in sports, shifted its focus on the ingenuity of podcast as a medium for producing content when one of the students raised a question about the same.


Lambert, the author of Digital Sports Journalism, explained that the clubs’ and players’ relationship with their fans was already changing even before Covid hit, as the former were expected to give the fans an insight into what went on behind the scenes.


The need to satiate the fans’ demand for content despite the lack of live-sporting action in the pandemic accelerated this changing trend, as it dragged “the genie out of the bottle”, added Williams.


However, the panel critically observed that most engagement between players and fans through social media creates a sense of “quasi-intimacy”, that is, an “illusion of intimacy”.


But Williams, in approval with the rest of the panel, adjudged that podcasts, a still-growing medium, offer a window to transcend the “manufactured” interactions between sports personalities and their supporters.


Hayden, who appears at The Ruck Rugby Podcast, highlighted the private and intimate nature of the medium, stating that the “silly” stuff which the athletes do in the less-pressurizing environment of podcasts, is what fans find “brilliant”.


She also pointed out that often players host podcasts, which adds another layer to the dynamic between fans and sportspersons.


A prime example of this is a podcast called ‘Defiance’, hosted by Michael Johnson, the four-time Olympic gold-medalist, where he interviews other athletes to document the history of protest in sport.


Lambert, speaking from his experience of formerly covering sports for BBC and ITV, asserted that podcasts enable a journalist to have a “proper” conversation and “go beyond the soundbite”.


A journalist aspires to “sit down” with a sportsperson rather than “grabbing five minutes at the end of a training session” just to have a “snatched conversation” with them, continued he.


Penman, the founder of PlayMaker PR, brought the perspective of those on the other side of the fence to the conversation and specified that building a rapport with the interviewer also make the athletes feel at ease.


She extended that the longer format and conversational manner of podcasts enhance the comfortability factor for sportspersons.


However, she acknowledged that while this need to satisfy the appetite of the audience is recognised by the players, they are also media trained to do so in a controlled manner.

 

Image credits: picpedia.org and nytimes.com, respectively.