The first priority for Dan Le Batard’s next media endeavor—a project he’s launching with his former boss, one-time ESPN president John Skipper—is to secure a distribution deal for his audio empire.
Those negotiations will likely be bolstered by something he took with him from ESPN. As part of his severance from the Disney unit, Le Batard negotiated for the RSS feed to his podcast, according to multiple people familiar with the talks. It’s allowed the talk show host to maintain continuity with his followers, without requiring them to re-subscribe to a new show.
Le Batard also negotiated the use of the oceanfront Miami Beach studio where he recorded for ESPN, the people said. A representative for ESPN declined to comment on the arrangement. Le Batard also declined to comment when reached by phone.
The RSS feed, in layman’s terms, is the podcast’s connection to its audience. When listeners subscribe to a podcast on iTunes or Spotify, they’re committing to have new shows delivered to their phones via the RSS feed. By retaining it, Le Batard was able to maintain his loyal—and sizeable—audience. He’s also kept the 23,000-plus reviews that give his podcast a valuable 4.8-star rating on iTunes.
While the specific terms of his negotiations with ESPN are unknown, having the pre-built audience and data associated with it should help as he begins talking to distribution partners. That said, it likely won’t make or break a deal, said John Kosner, a media consultant and former ESPN executive.
“Dan Le Batard is a very popular talent. He’s been on television and radio and podcasts for a long time,” Kosner said. “If he had no rights to anything, I still think he’d get a significant distribution deal. But this definitely strengthens his hand.”
ESPN theoretically could have kept the RSS feeds and used them to boost the following of another show. That would have run the risk of alienating Le Batard’s avid fans and potentially backfiring if listeners found themselves subscribed to a podcast they didn’t want.
Le Batard wasted little time putting the RSS feed to work. Just one day after his final ESPN show last week, he was posting new episodes of “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” to his existing subscribers. As of Thursday morning, the show was No. 1 on Apple’s sports podcast chart; a separate Le Batard offering is No. 10.
Skipper and Le Batard plan to build a new personality-driven media company that could cover a variety of topics, starting with sports, according to someone familiar with the plans. It’s unclear when exactly the venture will get off the ground, but Skipper will remain in his role as executive chairman of sports streaming service DAZN while working on the new venture.
A former Miami Herald columnist, Le Batard spent nearly a decade at ESPN, where he became one of the company’s most popular and visible personalities. He had a presence on ESPN’s TV, radio and podcast platforms, and at the time of his departure, he was making $3.5 million per year, according to Sportico sister publication Deadline.
Frequently outspoken, Le Batard clashed with his bosses toward the end of his tenure, first over the company’s policy not to directly address political matters, and later over the abrupt firing of his long-time radio producer. Both sides have described his departure as amicable.
Le Batard is the latest media personality to leave a major network and launch his own venture. Those hosts have more leverage now, Kosner said, because there are other ways for fans to interact with them.
“Modern talent negotiations are all skewed by the fact that powerful talent have their own independent social media following on places like Twitter and Instagram, and that’s their property not their employer’s,” Kosner said. “Whether you’re Stephen A. Smith, or Bill Simmons, or Dan Le Batard, that’s a valuable asset that you have going forward, and it weakens the positioning of your current employer.”