Spotify’s rumored interest in buying The Ringer would cut another middleman out of podcast creation
Companies like Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher (among others) are in a strange position regarding podcasts. These companies bring podcasts, created by other companies, to listeners, and receive little credit. If your podcast provider of choice shuts down, you’re not going to stop listening to podcasts – you’re just going to find another service to use.
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This is what makes Spotify’s rumored potential purchase of The Ringer so interesting. The story broke a week ago, and is the latest in a line of Spotify trying to cut out the middleman in the podcasting world. A year ago, Spotify bought Gimlet Media, Anchor, and Parcast in the span of around a month, launching them into the original content sphere with two feet. Last year, Spotify also announced plans to expand their drive into the sports world, and exclusive sports-centric podcasts were rumored earlier this month.
But Gimlet and Parcast typically don’t focus on sports and entertainment. Most of their content typically falls into one of three categories: docudrama, true crime, or history. The Ringer’s podcast empire is significantly more tilted towards sports and entertainment, as you can see in this screengrab of their podcast directory from The Ringer’s website.
Needless to say, that’s a lot of content in a pair of spheres where Spotify desperately needs it. If Spotify would be able to complete a purchase, that would help their original content offerings very much. However, The Ringer won’t come cheap – Bill Simmons is reportedly seeking a nine-figure purchase price.
But so much of the discussion about Spotify and The Ringer is focused around podcasts. The Ringer is more than just podcasts, including the plethora of written content on the website, some original video content, and the Ringer Films industry, which has created a number of documentaries with HBO. A Spotify purchase of The Ringer wouldn’t just be for the podcast network – it would be for the whole shebang, and that’s where potential problems could arise.
Even if you assume Spotify wouldn’t be a hands on owner, dictating strategy and direction to The Ringer, you know what their bread and butter is – audio content. Could, in time, Spotify push for even more podcasts at the expense of articles? And could that focus on podcasts push away some staffers who consider themselves writers first and podcasters second? It’s not a crazy idea, and it could negatively affect the site, its content, and its audience.
But for Spotify, purchasing The Ringer makes perfect sense. They’re not going to be able to own ESPN’s podcast empire. Podcasts are far from the main attraction at The Athletic, and acquiring that company would cost an eye-watering amount. Cadence13 got bought by Entercom last year. The most reasonable options remaining would be The Ringer and Barstool Sports, which is reportedly nearing a sale to Penn National Gaming. The Ringer would bring plenty of well-renowned podcasts under the Spotify umbrella, accomplishing Spotify’s goal of getting a foot in the door of both the sports and entertainment genres.
Spotify could also use The Ringer’s content to boost its subscriber base. Imagine some of The Ringer’s premier podcasts, available with ads on Spotify Free, The Ringer’s website, or a variety of other podcasting platforms, or without ads on Spotify Premium. All of that ad revenue would flow into a company owned by Spotify, and if a listener opts for the ad-free version, they’re directly giving Spotify money. In either case, Spotify wins.
It’s important to remember that this deal isn’t done quite yet. But if Spotify wants to make a big splash in sports and/or entertainment, it’s hard to imagine a more ideal fit than The Ringer. If they can’t get a deal done, it’s going to be interesting to see which direction Spotify pivots in, and if they still decide to acquire a company with a treasure trove of acclaimed sports podcasts.
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.