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Logan Swaim is Cranking Up The Volume

“We’re moving in the direction of an ‘always on’ content network – where you can watch our talent on essentially every platform.”

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Logan Swaim has seen the media industry evolve since he began working in it during the early 2000s. He has served in a variety of roles with several prominent brands that led to him becoming the director of content at Colin Cowherd’s digital podcast network The Volume.

Swaim worked as the executive producer of Good Morning Football on NFL Network, and got his start on the digital side of media working as an executive producer at DAZN. Swaim also produced the NBC Sports series Heart of a Champion with Lauren Thompson, which showcased athletes overcoming hardships to achieve moments of grandeur and contentment, along with the UNINTERRUPTED digital series Mr. Impossible with Matt Liston and CBS series Game Changers, which was hosted by Kevin Frazier for the three seasons it ran from 2013 to 2016.

Swaim has adapted with the changing industry since he received his degree, especially over the last few years emblazoned by a devastating global pandemic and has become instrumental in paving sports media’s path going forward. Since last January, he has helped build and maintain an eclectic podcasting lineup featuring network founder Cowherd, comedian Alex Monaco, former WWE television host Renée Paquette and basketball social media influencers LaJethro Jenkins and Dragonfly Jonez.

Additionally, the network has brought on both former and current professional athletes as show hosts, including Draymond Green and Aqib Talib. The Volume was also one of the first national groups to sign college athletes to NIL deals once the NCAA amended its rules, inking four Notre Dame football players to host their own podcast Inside the Garage, along with 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young hosting his own podcast called The Bryce Young Podcast.

It is always important to continue to learn about the industry. That’s a seminal reason why Swaim is set to attend his first Barrett Sports Media Summit next week in New York City. He will participate in the panel “Planting Your Flag In a Digital World,” in which he will discuss his view of digital media’s evolution up to now and where he sees it going in the future. Joining him on stage will be Blue Wire Podcasts CEO Kevin Jokes and Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio Carl Scott.

Ahead of this imminent, long-overdue gathering of media professionals, I caught up with Logan Swaim to discuss his time at The Volume thus far, what it is like working alongside Colin Cowherd and the evolution of podcasting in the 21st century.

Derek Futterman: How does your role at The Volume differ from roles you have had in the past?

Logan Swaim: My previous roles have focused on developing one show and its audience at a time. My role with The Volume is helping develop an entire company. Thankfully we have a visionary leader in Colin [Cowherd], amazing and supportive partners at iHeart and FanDuel, a killer team and a killer product. Interesting people say interesting things about sports.

DF: How do you evaluate talent? How has the way you evaluate talent changed since you began?

LS: Every decision begins with Colin and from our ethos of ‘same sports, different angles.’ We look for big thinkers and unique opinionists who are covering sports in a different way – like Colin has throughout his career.

Like Colin, Jenkins and Jonez use real-life analogies to help connect with the audience. They had a take last year about what Kyrie Irving needing a mental reset [would] lead to him playing better – [which] it did  – and compared him to employees going on vacation and coming back recharged at the office. That’s as informative as it is entertaining. Like Colin, Renée Paquette is fearless and can engage with guests who might make other podcasters uncomfortable.

DF: Can you describe working alongside Colin Cowherd, and what perspectives you and he share regarding the future of sports media?

LS: Working with Colin has been extremely rewarding. A big theme throughout his career has been ‘what’s next’ – he is fascinated with innovation and mobility, and he empowers his team to apply that to The Volume.

He sees where people are consuming content and wants us to serve those audiences. For a guy who is renowned for strong opinions, Colin is quick to pivot when he sees the industry evolving. As more states have legalized gambling, he’s encouraged to produce more gambling content. He asked us to hire a head of gambling – [and] we did [in] Sean Herlihy, and we’ve built out a robust gambling vertical including The Favorites with Chad Millman and Simon Hunter, Moneyline Monaco with Alex Monaco, and daily social content with Liv Moods.

DF: What led to the decision to bring Warriors forward Draymond Green on as a podcast host?

LS: Draymond embodies The Volume. He is emphatic, smart as hell and different. He was looking to start his own show, say the things that he wants to say and build his platform from the ground up.

He’s fascinated with every part of the process and willing to do the dirty work to grow his show. I mean that. He helps book and schedule his guests. He was excited to set up his microphone and webcam. He sends his audio files to his producer Jackson [Safon]. He has the same dedication and passion you see on the court. Even in our earliest conversations, Draymond realized The Volume was a perfect home for him.

DF: What led to the decision to bring on Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young and other athletes through NIL deals? What were the discussions like once you realized it was possible?

LS: Colin is all about empowering and amplifying the next generation of media talent, and the NIL gave us this unique opportunity to give active student athletes a real platform to share their perspectives on life as college football players.

Both shows we launched were around the biggest brands in the sport. On Inside the Garage, you hear four active Notre Dame players react in real-time to Brian Kelly leaving. On The Bryce Young Podcast, Bryce can detail real conversations he has with Nick Saban throughout the season. We had seen this ongoing trend with pro athletes, but not with college athletes. Both shows feel like the first of their kind.

DF: One year after the launch of The Volume, have you changed your expectations regarding the ceiling of the platform?

LS: Absolutely. It’s been fun to look back at where we were a year ago and see all that we accomplished in just 12 months. We launched with five initial podcasts and thought of ourselves as a more traditional podcast network. We have 13 shows now, and are just as focused on video as we are on audio.

We’re moving in the direction of an ‘always on’ content network – where you can watch our talent on essentially every platform – YouTube; Twitter Spaces; TikTok; Instagram Live. We’ve found video to be a meaningful revenue stream for us and that will be a big focus for us in 2022.

DF: How has the sports talk format evolved since you began, specifically its movement into the digital space?

LS: The idea of ‘immediacy’ and ‘authenticity’ have completely taken over the game. For immediacy – fans don’t want to wait for opinions and analysis. They want an immediate reaction. ‘Okay, this game just ended and my team got smoked; someone give me their take and help ease the pain.’ That is something we are big on at The Volume. We launched Lakers Tonight with Jason Timpf specifically for Twitter Spaces so Lakers fans can hear analysis as soon as a game ends.

As for authenticity – you no longer need a million-dollar studio and a bright, shiny desk to make content that cuts through. Some of our most engaging content will be Colin recording a selfie video about Aaron Rodgers while driving on the 405.

DF: What are the similarities and differences between sports talk radio and sports podcasts?

LS: People talk a lot about the differences between the two, but it seems like success for both is defined by their similarities. A good radio show and a good podcast ultimately depend on compelling voices who can capture you immediately, and can build an audience and community over time.

DF: How can podcasts and radio shows coexist in today’s media landscape?

LS: Colin is a unique voice in sports media. His opinions proved interesting first in sports radio, then on TV, after that on social media and now on podcasts. All these platforms can not only coexist; they can help you build a bigger brand.

DF: What are you looking forward to most about the BSM Summit?

LS: Meeting and learning from some of the smartest people in the industry. Hopefully getting to wear a Madonna mic. And a big hug from Jason Barrett.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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