Gary Lineker is one of the most famous professional footballers in the UK. Even after retiring from his successful career in the 1990s, Lineker continued to be a prominent face in the industry by venturing into sports broadcasting and co-hosting the BBC’s flagship football programme Match of The Day.
This year, Lineker’s fans were able to tune into his thoughts in a new way with Goalhanger’s The Rest is Football, a podcast that he launched ahead of the Premier League season under the independent production company that he co-founded in 2014. Despite already superserving his fans with content across the other shows that he presents, the podcasting format allows Lineker and his co-hosts - fellow former athletes Michah Richards and Alan Shearer - to deep dive into the world of sports and provide more insight and personal experiences without any restrictions.
The Rest is Football wasn’t the only new sports podcast to launch ahead of the Premier League season this year; many others followed suit including other podcasts led by former athletes such as Mail Sport’s It’s All Kicking Off with Premier League winner Chris Sutton and Daily Mail football editor Ian Ladyman, official football club podcasts such as West Ham United’s Iron Cast, and more. Sports has also become more popular amongst podcast listeners, and is now the fifth most popular podcast genre in the US as of Q3 2022, according to Edison Research.
Despite there already being plenty of coverage for sporting news across radio and TV, podcasting offers something different for fans. It’s a medium that’s more intimate and personal, giving audiences something they can’t quite get from traditional media formats.
Stefan Doyle, head of the Sport Social Podcast Network, told PodPod that what makes podcasting stand out amongst other traditional media formats is its ability to be always-on and to continue the conversation after a game ends, while radio and TV tend to do the opposite. Once a game is finished, fans can tune into a podcast a few days later to understand the reactions of other fans and to get a deeper analysis of the events that took place.
“When a game is finished, that can sometimes be where the coverage stops,” says Doyle. “I think that's where podcasting really comes into a strength because it can continue that conversation after the main event has finished. I think that's why it's really continuing to see such a big growth, because it feels a gap that was there before.”
Lineker echoes that statement. When asked what he and his co-hosts plan to do once the Premier League season is over, he points out that there will always be content for them to cover, whether that’s the Premier League, the Champions league, or something else, adding that “football is pretty much 12 months a year”.
The freedom of the podcast allows Lineker and his co-hosts to vary their content from regular episodes in which they tell stories, answer questions from fans, and recap events from the weekend, to ones that break that format such as interviews with special guests like Spanish football expert Sid Lowe.
“There's never any shortage of topics for us, which is also why we want to turn out multiple episodes a week - because I think that there was a kind of dearth in the market for that, particularly in football,” Lineker tells PodPod. “We can do what we want, when we want, and we try to give people what they want.”
You’ll never listen alone
With sports podcasts being so diverse in content and offering different perspectives depending on the topics they cover and the hosts, it makes for a more personal experience for the fans, who are actively choosing which podcasts they want to engage with and listen to as opposed to tuning into general sporting coverage from traditional media formats.
“You can pick and choose when you want to listen to it and what you want to listen to,” says Lineker. “There’s a whole variety of things out there and you get lots of time to do it, whereas specific media on television or radio, it's always really constructed generally.”
“I think the general feeling around was that people don't want long-form anymore, everything needs to be condensed into two or three minutes - and I think podcasting has absolutely proven that that's not the case.”
Doyle says that there’s a lot of synergy between sports fans and podcast audiences: they both share similar characteristics in that they’re both loyal to their favourites and very engaged. As a result, sports podcasts create a safe space for these fans who can share their love for the sport with people who have similar ideas and interests.
“You feel a part of something when you listen to a podcast, but you also feel like that as well when you follow a group or a team and you feel every high and every low,” says Doyle. “Particularly for those sports podcasts that have no affiliation [with a broadcaster or official club], that could give a fair and honest opinion. Sometimes they can really stand out and resonate with fans.”
Inside the sporting mind
Doyle also adds that independently-made podcasts allow fans to see an unfiltered version of their favourite athletes, who can use the platform to connect with fans by offering them a deeper insight into their thoughts and beliefs without any restrictions from broadcasters or official clubs.
Just this week, Lineker was once again accused of breaking the BBC’s impartiality rules after signing an open letter which opposes the government’s Rwanda plan. There are certain broadcast rules that restrict Lineker, as well as other presenters on the BBC’s payroll, from voicing certain views, while on the podcast, Lineker and his co-hosts have the freedom to do and say whatever they want.
“In the podcast, what we can do is we can sort of replicate the stories we tell in the green room and be ourselves a little bit more and tell stories that we can't tell on television,” explains Lineker.
The ability to have complete freedom of speech is just one of the reasons why sports podcasts have become so popular, especially ones that are fronted by former athletes who can share their personal experiences on their careers with fans.
Sports podcasting also brings in an element of storytelling which makes them more personable and intimate. During this year’s Radio Academy Festival, talkSPORT’s deputy head Kathryn Anastasi spoke about how podcasting is a massive area of growth in the sports industry because of what it offers that’s different from radio. “We’ve got analysis and coverage; we want the stories behind sports, and the future of sports,” said Anastasi.
“[Podcasting] allows us to maybe be ourselves more, to tell more stories, and to be more open about the stories,” Shearer tells PodPod.
“Generally what we do when we're on TV is talk about what's going to happen and what has happened 90 minutes earlier in a match, whereas in our podcast, we can reminisce and go back 34 years - a bit longer in Gary’s case.”