In the summer of 2016, David Locke, the radio voice of the Utah Jazz, founded the Locked On Podcast Network. What began as one show, Locked On Jazz, has grown into a wide-reaching world of sports audio. Over 130 different podcasts provide in-depth coverage of NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and major college sports teams.
What sets Locked On apart is that its shows are daily. The off-season can be a content desert in sports, but the network’s premise — Your Team. Every Day. — aims to change that. Insights, interviews, news and perspective are fresh and always on deck.
We spoke to Locke about the beginnings of the network, its advertising strategy, and how the shows have grown to net 6 million listens per month.
Locke is a lifelong sports fan, but broadcast radio has been his true calling since the beginning. “I’ve always cared about sports and wanted to go to the ballpark every day as a kid,” he says. “But I didn’t tell people at 9 years old that I was going to be a professional athlete. I told people at 9 years old that I was going to be the radio voice of the Utah Jazz.”
By the age of 20, Locke’s sports journalism career was in full swing. “I’ve always been a broadcast junkie,” he says. The voice was everything, even then.
“I was in the Oakland A's locker room and I was interviewing this pitcher named Dave Stewart. He was a Cy Young award winner, the best pitcher in the game. Then the radio voice who I'd listened to as a Bay Area kid walked by me, and I literally stopped in mid-sentence from interviewing this world-famous player in the game, because I’d heard the radio voice. For me, that was far more awe-inspiring than talking to the best player.”
Locke was a program director of radio by his mid-20s, “right at the start of sports talk radio” in 1995 and 1996. As someone who had followed the history of the medium, he discovered early on that the most passionate fans were those of local teams.
“When I realized there was a good audience to it, the next step logically was to ask yourself why, and it made sense,” he explains. “As great as some of the national hosts have been over the years, local shows have always had a better audience.”
Speaking about the moment when podcasting as a primary service became a realistic choice, Locke’s answer returns to fan service.
“I got named Radio Voice of the Jazz and then realized that the play-by-play job, in my opinion, no longer could be a ‘call 82 games and not interact with the fans’ anymore,'” he says. “The job had changed.”
The network idea began with a question: “How do I create a relationship with the fan base, year-round, so that you’re talking to them on game day but also communicating with them on Twitter or Facebook? Over time that evolved into what became Locked On Jazz.”
The response to daily team podcasts has been more enthusiastic than anyone expected, even considering the gap in the market that Locked On addresses. “If you think about it, sports talk radio is the last thing out there that’s not on-demand,” Locke says. “It still has its role — we’re not in any way, shape or form going to replace talk radio.” But for many listeners, traditional radio can’t deliver ideal content.
“If you’re in Dallas and you want to talk about the Rangers, they’re probably talking about the Cowboys. We can guarantee you that as a sports fan that wants to talk about the Mavericks or the Rangers, you just know you’re going to Locked On,” Locke asserts. “You’ll get your host, every day giving you exactly what you want about your team. You have a trusted source who delivers a podcast daily to you. We think daily is really important.”
Advertisers have certainly seen the value in the network’s local to national marketing range. Digitally-inserted, demographic-specific ads have been a successful revenue stream. “The key is that we’ve shown that we can sell as a channel, and allow these smaller podcasts to get advertising that they wouldn’t get otherwise,” Locke explains. “By proving that model, it opens us up to expansion.”
Smaller shows may be what give Locked On much of its character, but they also add significant value for advertisers looking to zoom in. Locke points out, “We can narrow-focus our advertising via social networking because of our local podcasts in a manner that a national podcast cannot.”
Funnily enough, one of the greatest sponsorship challenges has been that downtime is seriously underrated for engagement. When football season starts, advertisers can’t get enough of NFL shows, Locke reports. “Our audience grows in the off-season. That’s actually a big hurdle for us — getting advertisers to understand that the off-season is as important a time to advertise as the in-season.”
Now that the network has grown to 130 individual podcasts, Locke is passionate about bringing in rising professionals in the field. He sees the shows as “130 opportunities for talent to be heard and seen and to break through.” Each network personality has a chance to “become a major, important voice for their team and their fan base.”
Our conversation often circled back to the dedication and hard work of Locked On’s podcasters. The founder is open about the deep appreciation he has for their craft. “I think our talent deserves a great deal of credit for believing in what we’re doing,” he says.
“We have a lot of really talented people that are doing terrific work and serving audiences at their key moment. They’re friends on the drive to work or the drive home, catching them up on their team.”
Football, basketball, and baseball fans aren’t the only ones starting their days with Locked On shows. Hockey fans, too, are getting a network to call home. This newest addition now offers 21 podcasts with 10 more in the works.
“If you look at your local TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers, time committed to hockey is less than time committed to the other major sports,” Locke observes. “We’re going to be able to serve those fans. I don’t think a hockey fan very often gets 22 to 30 minutes of daily discussion on their team in any format other than podcasting.”
Reflecting on the past 3 and a half years of Locked On has given its founder a powerfully positive outlook. “It’s been such an incredible experience,” Locke says. “I have an amazing partner that pushes me intellectually, so my brain’s working at full speed ahead on this and that’s what I like in life.”