After an odd year in college sports, when schools played a modified season or no season at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes and their fans are eager to get back in the game. One TV station group is capitalizing on the excitement by introducing a new podcast that will both expand the company’s digital footprint and promote diversity.
Last month, TEGNA-owned Locked On started the Locked On HBCU podcast, which covers historically Black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) sports, athletes and culture. There are 107 HBCUs, but the podcast focuses on the top conferences. Hosted by Reggie Flood, a well-known New Orleans radio sportscaster, the daily podcast also features TEGNA local TV news correspondents and anchors who cover or attended an HBCU.
The Locked On Podcast Network started in 2016 with a single podcast about the Utah Jazz and has since expanded to more than 175 podcasts covering the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, major college teams, fantasy sports and sports betting, with over 80 million downloads in 2020. TEGNA purchased Locked On last January.
Locked On HBCU is the first daily podcast devoted exclusively to HBCUs. “The podcast started from “a combination of a few forces,” president and founder of the Locked On Podcast Network David Locke said. “One, the natural expansion of our college programming. Two, I think there’s been an increased interest in HBCU programming… [Three], a lot of our markets match HBCU markets.”
Locked On HBCU also opens a new page in TEGNA’s local TV playbook. “We’re trying to integrate our audio talent along with some of their television,” Locke said. “We’re moving our podcasts all to video, which increases their video content on their OTT apps and their watch channels.” Local reporters and anchors join the podcast to report on the latest news at an institution and to provide analysis of a team, which increases exposure for them, their station and the podcast. “If you get a name that’s familiar to people from a certain region, [and] they tell their people that they’re going to be on the podcast, more people tune in because they want to hear what they have to say,” Flood said.
Mo Carter, a contributor to the Locked On HBCU podcast and sports director at WZDX, TEGNA’s Huntsville, Alabama station, believes availability and accessibility for viewers is why local TV sports news is going digital. “[A] big difference with TV is that I only have my certain times of the day in which I’m on a television screen,” he said.
Rather than watching local sports coverage at a designated time, fans can listen to in-depth analysis of a team or conference at their convenience. “That’s kind of how things are really moving, not just for the podcasts but in the entire news and sports and digital world,” Carter added.
Listen to an episode of Locked On HBCU
Carter sees an opportunity to cover local sports that networks often ignore. “You may not get those [local stories] on a national or even a regional level, so that’s why it’s important to tell those stories locally and build that fan base,” he said. While professional and big-name college teams dominate the news cycle, there is still a demographic of fans who follow underrepresented sports, including the HBCU teams.
The Locked on HBCU podcast will also touch on HBCU life, culture and education with the help of well-known anchors like Lesli Foster and Allison Seymour of WUSA, TEGNA’s Washington, D.C. station. Prominent TV personalities like Foster and Seymour, both HBCU grads themselves (Howard and Hampton Universities, respectively) can help boost the numbers for the podcast, but the cross-platform play also introduces them to potential new viewers.
The anchors plan to highlight the importance of attending and supporting HBCUs. “The world needs to understand the fabric of who African Americans are and how we contribute to the wider community,” Seymour said. “It’s just about everything: representation, diversity, stories told by people who understand the history and the stories and care about it.”
Locke says the new podcast has performed well since its Aug. 2 debut, thanks to the “uniqueness of pride” shown by the HBCU community. “I think the reception has been really positive. People are super excited to have [HBCUs] being covered the same way we are the SEC, the ACC, the Big 10, Big 12,” he said. “I think there is a thirst. I think people really want to have information about HBCUs,” Flood added. “There’s been a resurgence in interest in HBCUs, so people out there want the information, and they want it from viable and credible sources.”
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