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‘ESPN Daily’ makes ‘the listener smarter and understand something in a new way’

Today marks the one-year anniversary of ESPN Daily, the podcast which has been downloaded more than 25M times

ESPN Daily producers (L-R) Michael Johns, Eve Troeh and Erin Vail. (Photos courtesy of Johns/Troeh/Vail/ESPN)

Today, the ESPN Daily podcast celebrates its first birthday.

ESPN has the greatest team of reporters covering sports all over the planet. The daily pod is a showcase for their remarkable work while allowing for their personality, thoughts, insights, and even humor to shine in a way it can’t through the printed word.
– Andy Tennant, executive producer, E60/OTL/ESPN Daily

A celebration is called for as it is a good point to reflect on one year of outstanding teamwork and memorable shows.

The idea for the show was simple, explains Andy Tennant, executive producer, E60/OTL/ESPN Daily.

“ESPN has the greatest team of reporters covering sports all over the planet. The daily pod is a showcase for their remarkable work while allowing for their personality, thoughts, insights, and even humor to shine in a way it can’t through the printed word. In just 20 minutes, we ask them to explain, with context and clarity, the biggest, most complex sports story that day, in a way the fan can make sense of it all.”

Building a Bi-Coastal Staff

To do that, Tennant put together a team that learned to work together even if distanced long before the pandemic. There are three staffers in Los Angeles and four on the East Coast between Bristol and New York.

“Under the leadership of Eve Troeh [senior editorial producer] and Michael Johns [senior managing producer], this diverse team of storytellers, in just one year, has made ESPN Daily the top daily sports podcast on the planet,” says Tennant.

“More than 25 million downloads, during a pandemic and election year with no live sports for five months, is an incredible feat. It is a testament to the passion and tireless devotion of hosts Mina Kimes and Pablo Torre, associate producers Erin Vail and Chris Tumminello, senior audio design editor Steve Martiñ, and digital audio producers Alex Hyacinthe and Ryan Nantell to create a unique, highly-produced storytelling experience for sports fans every single day.”

For Troeh, a veteran reporter, editor, and producer for national radio news and podcasts who joined ESPN a year ago to work on ESPN Daily, the promise of working with the world’s best and deepest bench of sports journalists has been borne out in practice.

“I thought the idea was fantastic, loved the team already assembled, and it was an opportunity too good to pass up,” she recalls of her decision to join ESPN. “To pull from the best of what ESPN has to offer was tantalizing, and I’ve been so impressed with all of ESPN’s reporters. It’s like being allowed to drive a sports journalism race car.”

Johns has worked for ESPN for more than a decade and was on the E60 staff before ESPN Daily. He was drawn to the new project by the challenge of applying storytelling to a new medium.

Senior audio design editor Steve Martiñ and his assistant contribute to the ESPN Daily storytelling. (Steve Martiñ/ESPN)

“I liked the idea of starting something new and working in a medium that ESPN hadn’t done much long-form storytelling,” he says.

“A lot of storytelling in TV is communicated through the pictures – the facial expression from an interview subject, for example. In audio, you need the guest to spell things out a little bit more and be more explicit. The plus side is you can attack topics that are a bit more abstract. TV needs video, and that dictates editorial decisions. In this medium, an interesting guest who can verbalize well can make for a great show.”

Like Troeh, he, too, is appreciative of the ESPN resources at their disposal.

“I think of the podcast as a way to show breadth and range of all the reportorial talent at ESPN,” Johns says. “The people we call on are the authority in the sports world on the person or subject at hand.”

Troeh and Johns – who like the entire staff have been working from home since mid-March – work with Torre to choose topics, plan and put elements together, and communicate across ESPN.

Troeh is based in Los Angeles with Vail – “who has produced some of our most ambitious shows,” according to Troeh – and Martin.

Johns, who is joined in Connecticut by Tumminello, heads the East Coast portion of the staff, which includes New York-based Hyacinthe and Nantell.

No Such Thing As A Routine Day

After starting each Sunday-Thursday with a noon ET meeting, there are no routine days. For example, it was common to do shows after NBA Finals games concluded, making for a late night for Torre and staff.

The goal is to take the listener through a story or phenomenon or event and make the listener smarter and understand something in a new way. – ESPN Daily producer Eve Troeh

On the other hand, an interview with The Undefeated’s writer and commentator Dominque Foxworth related to his “Cover Story” about Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs was recorded three days before airing. That gave plenty of time to “sweeten” the finished product: editing the one-hour conversation down to 20 minutes, preparing Torre’s script plus finding clips from Mathieu’s time at LSU, music, and related interviews.

“The goal is to take the listener through a story or phenomenon or event and make the listener smarter and understand something in a new way,” Troeh says.

Did the sports shutdown this year make for a dearth of topics?

“Surprisingly, no,” Troeh says. “That goes back to nature of the show. We can draw from all around the company. There’s so much excellent work going on. Off the field stories such as NFL free agency, [NASCAR driver] Bubba Wallace and social unrest provided no shortage of topics. Credit for that goes to ESPN’s journalists.”

Looking Ahead To Year Two

Not resting on its laurels, the staff is hoping to continue to evolve and grow the podcast.

“Year One was always about getting the content right, making smart sports fans even smarter and creating a brand we can all be proud of,” Tennant explains. “We’ve done that. Now we’re excited about the next chapter of content with Pablo, creative strategies around marketing and promotion, showcasing our storytelling across even more platforms in our relentless pursuit of reaching even more sports fans in Year Two.”

That audience has nearly doubled in terms of downloads since the first month in 2019, despite the stoppage of sports. And impressively, ESPN Daily has about the same number of monthly unique listeners – the “reach” – as Pardon the Interruption, despite the latter’s 18-year head start.

“Growth for the ESPN Daily podcast is a function of the habits its existing audience develops for listening to the show,” says Ryan Granner, director, digital audio operations. “We want to make the podcast as much a part of listeners’ daily routine as a shower and breakfast. Frequency is the key to increasing total downloads.”

Like with everything else this year, ESPN Daily listenership has changed as a result of the pandemic, notably because fewer people are commuting to work. Listening from home has increased from 54 percent to 70 percent while listening from the car or at work has declined. Also, people are beginning their daily listening later in the morning.

ESPN DAILY: MOST MEMORABLE SHOWS AND MVRs
(MOST VALUABLE REPORTERS)

Both Troeh and Johns cited “the Kobe show” as one of the year’s most memorable. The staff got the shocking news of his death while on a plane heading to the Super Bowl.

Working out of the South Beach Miami ESPN studio, the staff pulled an all-nighter to produce the show, which included reporting from ESPN NBA reporter Ramona Shelburne on the scene in Calabasas, Calif.

Other shows on their most memorable list plus shoutouts for standout contributors, which shows the wide variety of topics covered:

– Dave Nagle

THE ESPN DAILY YOU CAN SEE

Recently, ESPN Daily has branched out into video, matching appropriate footage to key portions of that day’s interview. These “audio2video” segments can be seen on SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and other programs. Above, watch and listen to an example with ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst discussing LeBron James and Pat Riley.
– Dave Nagle

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