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How An NBA Podcast Grew Revenue by 80 Percent As COVID Turned the Basketball Season Upside Down

Dunc’d On Nate, hosted by Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux, launched in 2015 and quickly became one of the most popular podcasts covering the NBA. In late summer 2020, the podcast moved from a largely free, ad-supported model, to monetizing primarily through premium subscriptions. The shift has allowed Nate to produce more content and is generating a healthy return — they’ve converted roughly 20 percent of listeners into members and expect to increase total annual revenue this year by more than 80 percent.

We asked Nate a few questions about the shift and the results he’s seeing so far.

Please tell us a bit about your show and what makes it unique.

Danny and I started the show in 2015 (see coverage from Wired and Bloomberg) because we thought there was a gap in the marketplace for a daily NBA show that people could wake up to and find out everything important that happened in the NBA last night on their way to work. Basically, we’ve been making the show that we would have wanted to listen to ourselves, and we were lucky enough that people seem to want to listen to that also. I think we’ve had success because we’re able to put in the most time of any NBA podcasters since this is our main gig.

What made you think about turning to a premium revenue model?

We thought this would allow us to invest in creating more and better content, but the economic realities also led down this path as well. Since the pandemic started, downloads were down due to a reduction in commuting, and the advertising market tanked. I pursued discussions with myriad companies who specialize in selling podcast ads, and none had any degree of confidence that they could come close to filling our advertising inventory.

You’ve doubtless noticed the proliferation of written sports subscription content as attempts to monetize content with advertising have failed. While subscriptions are not yet common with sports podcasts, our recent experiences make us believe the industry is headed that way. Rather than subjecting ourselves to the vagaries of the advertising market, we thought it made more sense to rely directly on our listeners to keep this endeavor going. (To learn more about the decision, see here.)

Why did you feel it was important that you leave one episode per week available for free?

We definitely wanted to maintain some type of free presence to allow new listeners to discover the show and to maintain listeners who aren’t willing to pay for a subscription podcast.   We also found it much easier to fill out advertising inventory on a once per week podcast at a level that made sense, although we do give subscribers that episode ad-free.

And how’s the Supporting Cast-powered membership going so far? Are you hitting your goals?

We had been podcasting for over five years before the switch, so I was hopeful that our audience would support us with this move given the financial realities for an independent podcast like ours with so much advertising inventory. That said, the conversion rate has been truly stunning and humbling. About 20 percent of listeners have signed up, many of those via a special Founding Membership pre-sale that allowed early adopters to sign up for and then renew a yearly membership at a low price we will never offer again. Amazingly, about 70 percent of our current members signed up via that Founding Membership and were willing to pay for a year up front.

How does the revenue you’re generating now compare to what you were making through a purely ad supported model?

When we made the decision to work with Supporting Cast in the pandemic summer of 2020, the best offer I had gotten from canvassing the various podcast hosting companies would have resulted in a 60 percent reduction in guaranteed advertising revenue compared to the previous year, which would have put us at a point where the show might not have been viable as a primary business any longer. That made it an easy decision to take the plunge and try a subscription model, and instead of a 60 percent reduction in revenue from last year we’re on track for about an 80 percent increase.

Supporting Cast partners with a handful of podcasters who charge thousands of dollars per year for specialized content, but most charge around $5/month, at least for their lowest price plan. You landed on a higher price point, starting at $12/month. How did you decide on the pricing of your plans and what benefits to offer? 

There are a few reasons we decided to go with this pricing approach. One guide was other independent content creators both in and outside the NBA; our pricing is largely in line with theirs.

For us specifically, we believe we have a product that’s unique in the sports industry as far as the amount of time and research we’re able to put into our podcasting. I think we offer more content than any other sports podcast with over 20 hours per month and about 220 episodes per year. And we offer it more frequently, in a way that allows listeners to keep up with the NBA on a day-to-day basis in the most detailed way possible. We also provide premium written content in addition to the podcast. This podcast is my full-time job — most podcasters spend a few hours a week in addition to other media responsibilities — and it is priced accordingly. It’s definitely niche content. There aren’t that many people who are into it, but the ones who are seem to really value it, so a higher price point seemed appropriate.

It was also important to us not to lose any listeners who truly couldn’t swing the higher price. So we invite listeners in financial difficulty to email us and request access to a lower price tier of $5 per month.

Were people angry about the fact that your previously free show is now mostly only available to members?

We’ve been really happy with the response from our audience. I get the occasional snarky Twitter comment about how I don’t know what I’m doing and this will surely fail, but almost everyone has said they are really happy to support us.  I thank all the listeners who have reached out and told us what a good value they think we’re providing.

How much work was it for you to get the membership launched? And how much time does it require on an ongoing basis since you’ve been fully up and running?

I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to the show, so it did take a fair amount of time to get everything up to speed, to write the templates for emails to new members, to decide how to price the show, to figure out exactly what to offer, and to market it. But now that we’re up and running, it’s actually reduced my work on a daily basis since we aren’t doing as much day-to-day stuff around the advertising on the show.

You had a Patreon previously — why did you decide to move to Supporting Cast?

Patreon seemed more optimized to be a supplemental platform, but I thought that Supporting Cast worked better for a show that was going to be exclusively subscription. I thought you had more flexible pricing options and an easier interface for users to seamlessly transition and listen in their existing podcast players, the latter of which is probably the most important aspect in all of this.

I did a ton of research and interviews with the various players in the field, but ultimately acquired a great comfort level with the Supporting Cast team as I went through the transition process that made me feel we could work out any kinks along the way. It’s been a really successful partnership so far.

Is there anything else that you think is important for your fellow podcasters to know before they consider a premium podcast offering like yours?

I always thought I would consider this at the point where our audience wasn’t growing as much.  This isn’t the same industry it was a few years ago, as there’s now a ton more competition for ears, and it’s become more about maintaining current listenership than the multiplicative growth we saw in the early years. I think once you’ve reached a plateau in terms of downloads and audience, it’s probably time to consider this. I would say the longer you’ve been doing it, the more frequently you podcast, the more of your content you’re willing to put in a subscription model, and the more dedicated your fans, the more you should consider this approach.

Want to learn more about Supporting Cast? Get in touch — we'd love to discuss how you can vastly increase your revenue with a premium strategy.