Back in 2014, Andy Holloway and Mike “The Fantasy Hitman” Wright were doing what millions of office-mates do every day: talking about their fantasy football teams and league instead of working.
Only this time they turned on a microphone.
“Mike and I actually started a podcast for our league. To make fun of people, talk about trades, talk about things that happened,” recalled Holloway. “That was the spark that began The Fantasy Footballers podcast.”
Fast forward five years later and the former inside joke has transformed into the No. 1 fantasy football podcast in America.
Hosted by longtime friends Holloway, Wright and Jason Moore, the podcast had over 100 million downloads in 2018. The Fantasy Footballers have attracted over 151,000 subscribers and 15 million streams on YouTube.
They bill themselves as “The ONE Fantasy Football Podcast you can’t leave off your roster.” Their die-hard fan community is known as the #FootClan.
Like a rock band on tour, the three, 30-something Arizona fathers stage live shows across the country. You can find them frequently on sports television, talking top fantasy picks with the likes of Rich Eisen of NFL Network. They’ve been quoted by the New York Times – and just got some online love from Hollywood star Michael Keaton.
How and why did it happen? Call it a combination of smarts, talent, and timing.
First, these pals smartly launched their podcast in February; the least popular time for football in America. Launching before the season ramped up enabled the three co-hosts to develop their on-air chemistry and work out the technical kinks.
It also allowed them to form a bond with that slice of fandom that is hungry for year-round fantasy football content.
During their live shows, these fans constantly come up to the trio to tell how they’ve become part of their daily commute, daily workout routine, daily lives.
“We felt like there were a lot of people who were a lot like us. Who wanted to talk about fantasy football beyond the regular season,” Holloway said. “We cut our teeth in the off-season, built up a nice following of listeners and it kind of took off from there.”
It helps to be both lucky and good. The trio started their new company just as two relatively new industries – fantasy football and podcasting – were exploding in popularity.
More than 60 million people now play fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association. Research indicates there’s a heavy crossover between fantasy sports and the new gold rush of legalized sports betting.
Back in 2006, only 22% of U.S. adults were even aware of podcasts, according to the research firm Statista. That figure shot up to 70% this year. Around 32% of the population have listened to a podcast over the last month vs. 9% in 2008. The number of podcast listeners is predicted to explode to 132 million by 2022, up from 86 million this year.
“We were in the right place at the right time. Fantasy football was growing, podcasting was growing,” Holloway said. “We were able to build a loyal audience – and it continues to grow.”
The co-founders of The Fantasy Footballers have long since quit their old jobs and devoted themselves full-time to their startup.
They’ve been able to monetize their free podcasts by attracting advertisers like Pepsi, World of Warcraft, White Castle and SeatGeek. They sell a hot-selling guide called “The Ultimate Draft Kit.” They also offer a premium #FootClan membership, which provides subscribers with extra shows.
The trio’s hustle has paid off. Their company generated $2.7 million in revenue in 2018, up 68.8% from $1.6 million in 2017, and a 260% increase from $750,000 in 2016. They’re completely independent, with no outside investors and no debt.
Naturally, The Fantasy Footballers have had suitors come sniffing around looking to buy the company. But they like raising their young families in Arizona. They like calling their shots.
“We’ve always said we wouldn’t close the door entirely on an acquisition. But we also are not pursuing it,” said Holloway. “It would have to be a unicorn offer where we have creative independence.”
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Still, they “pinch themselves” every day over their unexpected success, said Holloway. As Forbes writer Jeff Fedotin noted in a profile, a sign in the company break room reads: “Remember how you got here. Remember why you do this.”
Said Holloway: “We’re building a business with something we love doing — which is playing fantasy football. So it’s been a really fun opportunity for us.”