How (and Why) To Start a Sports Podcast

Light Years didn’t grow in the blink of an eye.

To be honest, Andy Liu didn’t want to start a Warriors podcast. By 2016, he’d already spent years blogging about the team and had tried multiple times to launch podcasts, YouTube shows, and the like. “It was a lot of doing shows with, like, 10 viewers,” Liu says. “It was every night I was doing this […] There was a lot of failure—years and years of that. I quit because I didn’t see anything there.”

“I was over it.”

Looking back, Esfandiari is embarrassed by those early shows.

Yet, pushed by Warriors World blog owner Rasheed Malek and fellow Golden State fan Sam Esfandiari, Liu relented. Two days after Christmas in 2016, Light Years: A Golden State Warriors Pod was born. And it wasn’t great.

Looking back, Esfandiari is embarrassed by those early shows. He was nervous while recording them and timid behind the mic. For six months, he didn’t care about listener numbers. It might even have been better if people weren’t listening while he got comfortable with the technology. Now, he recommends newcomers invest in a quality microphone and an online recording solution to minimize that learning curve. Eventually though, he got a handle on the setup and developed a rapport with his co-host. 

“A year or so in,” Esfandiari says, “the numbers were at a level I was comfortable with, which was reinforcement that, OK, maybe you don’t suck at this.”

Photo provided by Liu

Based on those early download numbers, the hosts recognized that they received the best response to episodes that featured multiple topics and high-energy discussions around potential moves rather than more academic breakdowns of recent games. Fortunately, that fit with the type of show they wanted to do. “Andy and I weren’t out there being something we’re not,” Esfandiari says.

Warriors World included their early episodes on its own podcast feed and kept linking to the show thereafter, which helped bring in an initial audience. “I can’t stress enough how much Warriors World’s reach helped us,” Esfandiari says. It also helped that Esfandiari and Liu had built up credibility in the Golden State community, tweeting and writing about the team before launching their show. Lastly, it helped that the Warriors were good. Like, historically good. So good that their die-hard fans could not get enough content about them.

Liu and Esfandiari started the show during Kevin Durant’s first season with the team and gained listeners as the Warriors won back-to-back NBA championships. They garnered references in national publications, bringing in new audiences. Those nods further encouraged Esfandiari. They put together live shows during the finals and parlayed their podcast into a regular slot on local radio. Each step up prompted a new flurry of nerves, but they also made him more confident. 

Light Years joined the Blue Wire network, added advertisers to the show, and launched a premium subscription tier. “It’s cool to make money,” Liu says, “but that’s not the best part.”

“God, this is going to be fucking corny,” he continued, “but the best part is just the fans…the feedback you get from fans. I have people reaching out to say, ‘Dude, your podcast gets me through runs,’ and stuff like that. That makes me super happy. What makes me happy is not that I get money but that what I do actually means shit. It’s not, like, thousands and thousands of downloads, but there’s a segment of Warriors fans that really love this and they tell me. That’s the best part of it.”

Light Years’ listenership was better during the first week of this season than it was during that period the previous year, but as the Warriors’ play stagnated, so did the show’s audience. The most popular episode came when the team shook up its roster, trading D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins. Other times, the hosts had to get creative. “It was a rough year in terms of generating content,” Esfandiari says. “If you’re doing a regular podcast, you hit walls. The stuff you are talking about is going to be stale and mundane.”

Going forward, they’re hoping to continue growing their membership features, introduce merchandise, and possibly plan events when those become a possibility again. It’s important to note, Liu says, that the pair isn’t in it for the money. “If you really want to do it for money, you are going to fail,” he says. “There are easier ways to make money.”

Both Liu and Esfandiari maintain other jobs, and, maybe counter-intuitively, they credit those careers with part of their success. The other income takes the pressure off of them, allowing them to be more natural and more interesting. 

“A lot of people don’t relax,” Liu says. “Alcohol helps. I’m not telling people to podcast drunk but a lot of people are very stiff. This isn’t life or death. It’s not a job interview. A lot of people can get very tense and we were kind of like that in the beginning…. Don’t be the guy that comes on a podcast and starts acting differently. That’s the most important thing.”

More Stories

He Turned The Thing He Loved About His Commute Into His Career

He Turned The Thing He Loved About His Commute Into His Career

Eric Silver found an audience in non-sports people for his basketball podcast HORSE.

Before mentioning anything else about his old job, Eric Silver brings up the commute. “It is important for the setting here,” he says. To understand why he left behind a career in education after getting a master’s degree from NYU, […]

How Hard Could It Be To Make a Top-Tier Daily Podcast?

How Hard Could It Be To Make a Top-Tier Daily Podcast?

How the ESPN Daily podcast keeps earning it's listeners every day

Producing ESPN’s Daily Podcast Is a Team Effort Since launching in 2019, ESPN Daily has been downloaded over 15 million times (as of May 31), averaging more than 585,000 listeners a month. Even as sports disappeared due to the COVID-19 […]

Social Media Audience Stalking FTW

Social Media Audience Stalking FTW

Scott Yager tells the story of building Challenge Mania's audience.

You might not have heard of Scott Yager’s first podcast, appropriately titled A Shot of Yager. Despite having celebrity connections, magazine promotion, and Yager’s natural interviewing and podcasting ability, the numbers were simply never there.  “I read the feedback,” he […]

A Breakthrough in Growth From Advertising

A Breakthrough in Growth From Advertising

The Growth of Pessimists Archive, with Jason Feifer

All great podcasts have to start somewhere. Many of the behemoths of today began in someone’s closet and with just a handful of friends for listeners. So, what changes that? How does a little, independent podcast spread, ultimately growing to […]