With more than 10 years of experience in the sports journalism business, I’ve become uniquely proficient in the art of securing interviews with high-profile athletes and coaches.
I’ve conducted in-person and virtual interviews with:
- Tyrese Maxey, shooting guard, Philadelphia 76ers
- D’Angelo Russell, point guard, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Drew Timme, power forward, Gonzaga Bulldogs
- Jordan Clarkson, shooting guard, Utah Jazz
- Van Jefferson, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams
- T.J. Ford, former Texas Longhorn and Milwaukee Buck
- Daelin Hayes, linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
- Kevin McCullar Jr., point guard, Kansas Jayhawks
- Ray-Ray McCloud, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
- Shaquille Quarterman, linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars
And many, many more. In this blog post, I’m going to share with you the secrets to getting high-profile athletes and coaches on your podcast for interviews.
How do I get athletes on my podcast?
Before we get into what you want to tell athletes and coaches directly, it’s important to note that if you’re aiming to bring on college coaches or college athletes for your podcast, you must go through their sports information director (SID). The interview is simply not going to happen unless you go through the proper channels, and if you try to circumnavigate those channels by reaching out directly to the athlete, you could get permanently blacklisted.
If you are going through an SID, you’re going to want to appeal to the SID him/herself. Their No. 1 job is to make the university look good and protect it from negative publicity. That’s it. SIDs want to grow the university brand (especially at lower-mid-major D1s, as well as D2s, D3s and NAIAs), but they are going to be cautious in who they give interviews to – particularly if it’s a new podcast without much of a following. So in your pitch, you want to make sure they know you’re not hoping to bring on the head coach for some kind of “gotcha” moment. You need to make it clear you’re not going to surprise attack that coach, defame the university, or ask inappropriate or private questions detrimental to the program, coaches or players.
Start with high school athletes
The barrier to entry for interviewing high school players is extremely low. It’s much easier to interview a 5-star wide receiver than a bench player in the NFL. And, if that player lives up to their potential, they may end up a household name in professional sports, which exponentially increases your credibility. See those names up on that list at the top of this article? At least half of those interviews were done while they were high school recruits. It was good for my brand to get big-time recruits on my websites, but even better when they blossomed into star athletes in the NFL and NBA – it just takes a little patience.
The other good thing about interviewing high school athletes is that they’re almost always looking for more publicity. Sure, there are a few super-5-star recruits who are sick and tired of people asking for interviews. But a lot of those 3-and 4-star guys are consistently trying to increase their brand recognition, get better offers, and start preparing to solicit NIL deals. You don’t have to go through any SIDs or coaches to get in contact with them. Twitter and Instagram DMs are the way to go.
Build relationships first
You have to get your face out there. If you’re hiding behind a computer, sending random DMs all day, it’s going to be difficult getting a start in sports media. Most of my early interviews with some of the NBA players you see on that list came from me going to high school games and AAU tournaments and literally just walking up to those players after the game and asking for two minutes to ask them a few questions. Athletes and coaches rarely turn down interview requests in the immediate aftermath of a game.
You can start by asking them about the game, what they thought went well, what needed improving, and then ask for their contact information after you conclude the interview. Tell them you’d like to get them on your podcast in the next couple of weeks. Not only does this secure an interview with that particular athlete, but his or her teammates may take an interest as well. High school athletes are well connected and oftentimes you can ask the ones you’ve already built relationships with for other athletes’ contact information.
The main point is to connect with athletes in person, build trust, and be genuine in your intentions. There are thousands of snakes in the high school sports world trying to make money off of teenage athletes in unethical ways. Be honest: “I want to feature you on my podcast. I’m trying to grow it and get more listeners, and having you on the show will definitely grow our audience. In turn, this will also grow your brand and hopefully get more eyes on your film.”
Lastly, don’t make empty promises. Don’t tell athletes you have 500 college coaches subscribed to your podcast to try and trick them onto your show. You don’t need to disclose specific numbers, anyway. Most young athletes are excited to get their name out there at all, and you have a platform for them to do that. If you want to be in the podcasting business for longer than a month, you need to build a solid reputation.
Mention previous guests
Obviously, this step comes a bit later in the process. But once you have 3-5 episodes done with athlete interviews, you can lead with that fact when pitching to new athletes.
- Start by interviewing athletes in the same circle as your first guest (e.g. high school teammates, select/AAU teammates)
- Expand to just outside that circle (players on rival teams or other teams in their district/league/conference)
Somewhere in those first two steps, you’re going to have interviewed at least one person of athletic significance, someone generally recognizable within the sports sphere in your area. At this point, you should be able to lean on that name when reaching out to future guests.
If you want some help reaching out to athletes for podcast appearances, send me a message on my contact page.
How can I get professional athletes on my podcast?
Getting professional athletes from one of the major American sports leagues may seem virtually impossible for independent media, especially unknown and new podcasts, but there are some ways you can finesse an interview if you make the right moves.
A couple of years ago, I reached out through Twitter to an NFL offensive lineman, La’Adrian Waddle, to see if I could interview him for a story I was writing. I told him I wanted to write about the work he’s doing with his wife in the community.
There are three things I did exactly right that you can replicate if you want to get a professional athlete on your podcast:
- I specifically reached out to a player at a position that does not frequently get media attention (offensive line). You’re not going to get Patrick Mahomes on your brand new podcast, but you might be able to get some guys on rosters that no one in the media gives much attention. If we’re talking football, think offensive line, defense, special teams, and players low on the depth chart. For baseball, you might want to reach out to someone deep in the bullpen or on the bench. For basketball, you’ll need to aim for that 15th player on the roster.
- I spoke to the player directly. Pro sports teams have media relations people you’re supposed to request interviews through, but they’re never going to let someone with a small audience and little to no experience podcasting interview one of their players. So, you might as well just reach out to the player directly through social media. If you get blacklisted by the team, it’s probably going to be worth it because hey, your podcast now features an interview with a professional athlete. It’s worth the small sacrifice. But typically, they’re not going to care as long as you aren’t putting the athlete in a position to say something detrimental to the team. Which leads us to our next point:
- Approach the player with a unique, fresh topic that they actually want to talk about. I didn’t ask Waddle the same questions all football players get asked about what their goals are for the year, how good they’re going to be, or about other players on the team. I wanted him to talk about his charity. Most professional athletes have their own charitable organizations and could spend all day and night talking about them. Rarely does the legacy media ask about these things. Use the casual nature of podcasting to let these athletes talk freely about things they care about.
Waddle loved the idea and agreed to the interview. You can read the finished story here. He shared it on his social media platforms and this article established a foundation of trust with me, so I can reach out to him again in the future.
How do I get coaches on my podcast?
Position your podcast as an opportunity to platform their message
Coaches typically aren’t as focused on self-promotion as athletes are – they’re more concerned with promoting their program. That’s why they routinely appear on radio shows, local news broadcasts, and other media outlets.
All coaches have messages they want to send, whether it’s to donors, fans, potential recruits, other teams, or university administrators. If you want to get a coach on your podcast, you need to find out what message they want to send and then sell them on the opportunity to do so on your platform.
Here are few examples of sentences you could send to a coach you want on your podcast:
- “I’d love to have you on my show to talk about the exciting developments going on in your program.”
- “I wanted to give you the opportunity to spotlight some of your players who have worked hard and represented the program well.”
- “I am hoping to preview this week’s matchup against ___. I know you have tremendous respect for the staff over there and I’m curious how you’re preparing for another well-coached team.”
- “I’d like to recap last week’s win and talk about the things your team did well and areas you’d still like to improve.”
- “I noticed your team is doing a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness and I wanted to get the message out about how fans can support you.”
- “I’d like to highlight some of the recent investments into your athletics program and how you foresee them impacting your team.”
Note how these are all very positive sentences. You’re not asking about injuries, disciplinary issues, why the team blew an 18-point lead, none of that. Keep it bright and to the point. Coaches don’t have time to waste reading 500-word emails. You just need:
- One sentence introducing yourself and your show
- One sentence requesting the interview and what you want to talk about
- One sentence expressing your gratitude
It’s that simple. If you need help writing your first emails, I do offer some consulting – just visit my contact page and let me know what you need.
How long should a sports podcast last?
The most engaging sports podcasts usually last between 30 minutes and one hour, but the most important thing is to be consistent.
A lot of this depends on how long your interviews last. Athletes and coaches don’t have a lot of time during the season, so if your show is following a team throughout the regular season and playoffs, you might be lucky to squeeze 10 minutes out of them. Unless you’re able to fill the other 50 minutes with just your voice and maybe a few ads, it might be best to cap it at 30 minutes.
Having a consistent duration is highly conducive to a successful podcast.
If listeners know they can consume an entire episode of your show on their 30-minute lunch break, they may be more prone to subscribing.
If listeners know they can use up the entire hour of their morning commute listening to your show, they may make it a habit.
It’s OK to experiment with podcast durations in the early stages, but once you figure out a formula that works, stick with it.
In summary, you can get compelling guests on your sports podcast by following the right channels, being transparent and authentic in your requests, coming up with fresh topics, building relationships and starting small. Don’t harass players and coaches for interviews, and make sure to value their time. Through trial and error, determine the length of your podcast and stick with it consistently.
Above all, remember to express humility in your approach to potential guests. You’ll have a lot more success landing big-name athletes and coaches if you are humble, respectful and self-aware, as opposed to self-serving and entitled.
Lastly, don’t give up. You’re not going to get your dream guest on your first episode. Be patient, continue to mix and mingle in the sports scene you’re targeting, and in time, those “no’s” will turn into “maybes” and eventually “yes’s.”
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